EAST LANSING - As expected, it was another goaltending duel Saturday night in East Lansing.
And for the second straight night, the Buckeyes prevailed.
Ohio State senior goaltender Brady Hjelle made 22 saves – earning the game’s first star for the second night in a row – and freshman forward Tyler Lundey scored two goals en route to a 3-1 victory over the Michigan State Spartans.
MSU head coach Tom Anastos was pleased with his club’s effort, but said the team has to start putting the puck in the net.
“Tonight, I thought our team played better than they did last night, and I was fairly satisfied with most of our game last night,” Anastos said. “But not good enough to get the kind of result we’re looking for. I give Ohio State lots of credit… You’ve got to score some goals and we’ve got to figure that out. Tonight, I thought we played a pretty good game and then we make a couple mistakes. They were big ones and they took advantage of it. And we weren’t able to respond to that.”
As frustrating as the lack of offense has been, Michigan State captain Greg Wolfe said his teammates need to keep their heads up because they’re getting chances.
“It’s not for lack of trying,” Wolfe said. “We had chances tonight. I think the biggest thing for us is getting the second and third opportunities. The puck was laying around, we had guys going, they just couldn’t find the puck, it was bouncing around, we just couldn’t corral it and put it in the net. There’s really only a certain amount of things you can say I guess. We’re just trying to stay positive right now, we are getting the chances, so it’s a positive thing, as long as we keep working at it.”
The first period saw the Spartans strike first. Senior alternate captain Chris Forfar split the Buckeyes’ defense at the blue line and ripped a low shot that beat Ohio State senior netminder Brady Hjelle in the five-hole. Assists went to John Draeger and goaltender Jake Hildebrand on a goal Anastos called a “great individual effort.”
In the second, it was all Ohio State, as they roared back with a pair of beautiful goals. First, down low in the Spartans’ zone, Matt Johnson slipped a puck behind him, between his legs to sophomore captain Tanner Fritz all alone in front, who beat Hildebrand high over the glove to make it 1-1.
Later, with just over a minute to play in the second stanza, the line of Ryan Dzingel, Alex Szczechura and Tyler Lundey worked a brilliant tic-tac-toe passing play that saw Lundey finish it off with a tap-in off a Szczechura cross-crease pass. Shots remained even through two periods, however, as the Buckeyes led 18-16.
In the third and final frame, the Spartans had their chances – including a late 6-on-4 power play with Hildebrand pulled – but Hjelle was rock solid between the pipes, shutting down MSU the rest of the way.
Senior defenseman and alternate captain Matt Grassi – echoing his head coach – bluntly said that there’s no room for simple mistakes on coverage like the ones tonight that led to the two Buckeyes goals.
“Like our coach said, the margin for error was very slim,” Grassi said. “They played a good road game, they were patient, they waited for us to make mistakes. We played a very hard game for three periods tonight, but two or three mistakes, and that’s all it took against a team like that. We have to eliminate those types of mistakes at this point in the season.
While Hjelle continued to prove why he’s one of the best goaltenders in the country, Hildebrand played stellar again, making 21 saves in the losing effort, only allowing two goals.
“It was a lot like last night’s game,” Hildebrand said. “We battled hard, just didn’t get the bounces. They were the same team as last night, they worked really hard and they finished their chances.”
With the win and weekend sweep, Ohio State has now moved into first place in the CCHA with a 6-2-2-1 record (7-4-3 overall). Miami and Alaska-Fairbanks square off late Saturday night. With a win, Miami could take over first place again.
Notes: Three stars: Chris Forfar (3rd; 1G), Tyler Lundey (2nd; 2G), Brady Hjelle (1st; 22 saves)… Saturday night’s attendance: 6,115.