MINNEAPOLIS – Through 40 minutes, it was beginning to look like the second-youngest team in the country was about to claim first place outright in the Big Ten standings with a seventh consecutive win.
But a mature, physical team drew a couple power plays, swung momentum back their way and came away with an important late-season split.
A Dennis Cesana power-play goal sparked a three-goal third-period rally for #19 Michigan State as they upended the Minnesota Golden Gophers 4-2 on Saturday night at 3M Arena at Mariucci. The Spartans added two more goals to stun the crowd of 9,661 and leave town with a weekend and season series split with their rivals with three weeks left in the regular season.
“It was pretty exciting,” Michigan State head coach Danton Cole said. “We were having a hard time finding our game. Give Minnesota a lot of credit. They came out flying.”
Another fast start by Minnesota’s speedy skaters put Michigan State in a hole, but despite a one-goal deficit after two periods and their forecheck being virtually nonexistent for much of the weekend, the Spartans came alive in the final 20 minutes to snatch the victory away from the Gophers.
“The guys came out pretty determined,” Cole said. “We got a couple pucks to go in, so it was a lot of fun – very exciting for our guys.”
Scott Reedy scored his third goal of the weekend to put Minnesota up late in the first period and Blake McLaughlin added a goal and assist, giving him two goals and three assists for the weekend. But once Michigan State got going, nobody else had an answer. The Gophers fell for just the second time in their last ten games – both losses have come against the Spartans. Momentum completely swung Michigan State’s when they drew two power plays in the first four minutes of the third period, and the latter one ended with Cesana’s one-time blast from the high slot.
“We had it almost killed off,” Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko said. “That’s when the tide turned.
“They were winning pucks off every faceoff, they were getting on top of us – a couple long shots find their way in the back of the net. We gotta break it down. They stole it. Michigan State just came in with will and hard work and stole it right from us. We were playing a really good game until that third period. That’s hockey.”
Reedy put the Gophers on top by taking a beautiful drop pass from Sammy Walker on a rush and wristing it home for his third goal and fourth point of the weekend.
“It was a great play there,” Reedy said. “Walker using his speed again and kinda leaving it for me to give me a ton of time and space to put that home.”
It was only a 1-0 game after one, but the Gophers were doubling up the Spartans in shots 18-9 and keeping one of the nation’s top goaltenders very busy. It didn’t help that Michigan State took two penalties and had to spend time trying to clear the zone.
The Spartans finally came to life late in the second as the team’s leading scorer Patrick Khodorenko knocked in a rebound, but the Gophers came right back less than three minutes later as McLaughlin, who was sprawled on his stomach as Tyler Nanne fired on goal from the right wing wall, buried the rebound off John Lethemon.
Michigan State forechecked better than they had all weekend to start the third period, tying the game just five minutes in on the second power play. Butrus Ghafari and Brody Stevens later scored three minutes apart to put the Spartans up by two goals, and they held on to pull into a three-way tie with the Gophers and Ohio State Buckeyes for second place with 31 points. Penn State is two points ahead of all three teams, but Minnesota and Michigan State each have two games in hand.
While the Gophers are disappointed with Saturday night’s finish, they remain in good position for home ice and a possible regular-season championship.
“We definitely have to take it in a little bit and learn from the experience. We have a young group,” said Minnesota defenseman Ryan Zuhlsdorf. “We’ll regroup Monday and start a new week.”
Lethemon bounced back with a terrific game, making 36 saves. Jared Moe had 31 for Minnesota.
The Gophers (13-11-4, 8-6-4-3) hit the road for the next two weeks with weekend visits to Notre Dame and Penn State before closing out the regular season at home against Michigan. The Spartans (14-13-1, 10-7-1-0) will play Michigan once at home and once in Detroit next week before hosting Ohio State and going to Notre Dame to finish up.
MINN goal at 15:38: Scott Reedy (14). Assisted by Sammy Walker (13) and Blake McLaughlin (12).
MSU goal at 15:36: Patrick Khodorenko (15). Assisted by Logan Lambdin (8) and Jerad Rosburg (10).
MINN goal at 18:12: Blake McLaughlin (6). Assisted by Tyler Nanne (9) and Sammy Walker (14).
MSU power-play goal at 5:04: Dennis Cesana (5). Assisted by Mitchell Lewandowski (11) and Rosburg (11).
MSU goal at 10:01: Butrus Ghafari (2). Assisted by Tommy Miller (7) and Khodorenko (16).
MSU goal at 13:07: Brody Stevens (3). Assisted by Tommy Apap (5).
Power plays: MSU 1-2, MINN 0-3.
Shots on goal: MSU 35, MINN 38.