With under five minutes to play in the second period, and down by only a goal, the No. 6 Michigan hockey team found itself with the puck and staring at a seemingly empty net — twice.
The first time, freshman forward T.J. Hughes snuck behind the goal unmarked, received a pass in the low slot and fired at an empty cage. And the second time, junior forward Phillipe Lapointe took a cross ice pass and ripped a low one timer through an empty lane.
But both times, the Wolverines were stymied by a flying, outstretched Michigan State goaltender: Dylan St. Cyr.
“You know he played a good game, made big saves and he helped them win,” Michigan coach Brandon Naurato said. “ … We had a lot of grade-A scoring chances, and they just didn’t go in.”
Michigan’s 2-1 loss Friday night was a goaltending duel through and through, with St. Cyr standing on his head and turning away 22 of 23 shots and the Wolverines’ junior goaltender Erik Portillo facing off against him. But the duel was one which the Spartans definitively won, as Portillo’s otherwise strong performance was stained by two weak goals, and St. Cyr continuously foiled Michigan.
Early on in the contest, Portillo and St. Cyr seemed evenly matched, but costly mistakes from Portillo gave Michigan State an advantage that it wouldn’t relinquish.
Up a goal in the first period and in the process of gaining a shortened man-advantage as sophomore forward Dylan Duke exited the penalty box, Michigan State defenseman Cole Krygier collected the puck on the boards and lofted a high — but catchable — shot toward the net. Portillo lifted his glove to secure the puck, but instead, it bounced off the hilt and trickled down into the net.
And again, midway through the second period, another mistake from Portillo and the defense proved costly. The Spartans crashed the net, and Portillo dove for the puck on the right side. He laid stationary after the save, thinking he had it covered. But the puck bounced loose, was kicked around the slot for a few seconds, and passed to the far side for a tap-in while Portillo scrambled back into position.
“Both their goals were unearned goals,” Naurato said. “It’s not a second effort from (the defense), and it’s a shot from the corner. Those are facts. I’m not calling anyone out. It’s just reality. … Everyone’s gonna make mistakes, he just happens to be the goalie.”
Other than those two blunders however, the rest of Portillo’s game was solid. He engaged fully in the duel with St. Cyr and turned away 29 of 31 shots — including several key saves. But against St. Cyr at his best, there wasn’t room for blunders.
St. Cyr killed the Wolverines’ offensive momentum throughout that duel. In numerous sequences, Michigan built pressure with puck movement, and it boiled over with a flurry of three or four straight shots. But in all but one of these sequences, St. Cyr dove, kicked or gloved his way out of it.
Portillo was fallible Friday night in a game against a brick wall. He turned away 29 shots, but the two that trickled past him were saveable.
Against a red-hot goalie in St. Cyr, that proved enough to make an otherwise decent outing a bitter defeat.