Going into the final home series of the season Michigan State hockey had just two opportunities to end some streaks of the bad kind. The Spartans had yet to win a home Big Ten game this season posting a 2-11-1 record overall at home. In fact since the turn of the calendar to 2017 the Spartans had failed to top any opponents other than Michigan with just two wins in 11 games.
Strangely, for Penn State the last five weeks have been a similar story. The Nittany Lions were ranked number one in the country just a month ago, after defeating the Spartans in Happy Valley 5-2 and 5-3. Following that series Penn State would go on to lose five straight games before picking up a pair of wins in Wisconsin. Last weekend they fell in both games against Minnesota, meaning entering the series in East Lansing they were back on a two game losing streak having lost seven out of their last nine overall.
Penn State once again found their winning form topping the Spartans 4-2, their third victory over Michigan State this year.
The two slumping teams played a physical first few minutes trying to impose their will onto the opposition. Michigan State has been a strong starting team this season, but were uncharacteristically heavily outplayed by the Nittany Loins.
“In the begging of the season you kind of saw the same thing. I don’t know if it was just a little intensity or something like that, but I’ll make sure to get onto the guys about it to try and come back with a strong start in the next game,” said Joe Cox on the slow start for the Spartans.
Penn State capitalized on the pressure they had early on to open the scoring just 3:14 into the game. Alec Marsh was able to cut across the front of the net putting the puck past the outstretched left leg of Michigan State goaltender John Lethemon. Penn State controlled play the rest of the period holding a nine-to-two shot advantage after the first, but were unable to add to their lead.
Senior captain Joe Cox took matters into his own hands scoring unassisted just 18 seconds into the second period to give the Spartans a pulse. Cox walked in between the circles and fired a shot over the glove hand of Penn State goaltender Peyton Jones. The ensuing minutes the Spartans piled on pressure and came within inches of taking the lead. A spectacular glove save by Jones reaching across while seemingly down and out left Logan Lambdin with his head between his hands.
Lethemon continued to duel with Jones in a strong second period for the Spartans stopping all 14 shots he faced. This included a spectacular save of his own the final minute of the period reaching behind him knock the puck just overtop the bar with his blocker.
The Spartans would gain their first lead of the game just over 11 minutes into the third. Rhett Holland took a drop pass from Taro Hirose in the slot and snuck the puck under the armpit of Jones.
The lead would last all of 13 seconds as Chase Berger put home a goalmouth scramble to equalize the game once again.
A flurry of penalties after the Berger goal led to a two powerplays for the Nittany Lions, who capitalized on the second to retake the lead. A shot just wide bounced off the boards and hopped back to the front of the net where Dylan Richard knocked it out of the air to loop it past Lethemon.
For the final 1:40 of regulation the Spartans had a powerplay opportunity trying to tie the game once again. The Spartans would pull Lethemon for a six-on-four opportunity, but after the puck hopped the stick of Zach Osburn Penn State went in two-on-one on the empty net to put the game out of reach.
“Clearly one of our challenges is we are not a team playing with a ton of confidence. We are trying to find ways to win and it hasn’t come easy obviously. When you are playing with confidence you seem to find ways to win and when you are not playing with so much confidence you are trying to hold on or you sometimes find ways to lose and that’s not a place you want to be,” said Tom Anastos, Michigan State head coach.
The two teams will face off tomorrow night at 7:05, senior night for the Spartans.