Fifteen minutes into the second period, Michigan State dropped the puck— rather, stick — in the middle of its own crease, and Jack Becker pounced.
But unlike the last three matchups against the Spartans, the sophomore’s easy flick past Spartans goaltender Drew DeRidder — his third of the season against Michigan State — all but assured that the third time would, in fact, be the charm for the Michigan hockey team in a 5-3 win.
From the start of the first period, Michigan controlled the puck, not letting Michigan State’s fearsome front line gain any momentum. Through two periods the Spartans took 12 shots — the Wolverines took 11 in the first period alone, and tripled the Spartans’ pace with 18 in the second.
“I was just trying to beat the defender guarding me to the next and being alert and getting to the puck first,” Becker said. “I just wanted to see them go in.”
Though Michigan didn’t capitalize on many of its first chances, it found daylight three minutes in as junior forward Will Lockwood passed it across the top of the circles to sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes, who knifed a shot into the right of Michigan State’s net. Though DeRidder blocked the shot, it forced him out of the goal, leaving a giant window of twine for sophomore forward Jack Becker, who put the Wolverines on the board less than four minutes in.
But just as quickly as it seemed like Michigan would take control of that game, Michigan State hunkered down — keeping the Wolverines out of the slot and the crease for most of the rest of the first period. It’s not like Michigan didn’t have any chances to balloon its lead — junior forward Nick Pastujov found himself on an odd-man rush, and when the rest of the Wolverines front line pressured DeRidder to the right side again, he hit pipe.
Michigan even got five shots on a power play 15 minutes into the period, but sticking to its recent script of power-play struggles, couldn’t convert — giving up an odd-man rush goal to Michigan State forward Sam Saliba just seconds after the power play.
Mirroring its first-period start though, Michigan bounced back three minutes into the second period when junior forward Jake Slaker danced behind the Michigan State goal and backhanded a vertical pass right across the right pole to a cutting Mike Pastujov.
Without much resistance, the sophomore forward flicked in a straight shot from the crease for his fourth goal in his last three games. Though the Wolverines didn’t convert any of their first three power plays, their staunch penalty kills blocked out Michigan State’s first four.
That defensive momentum allowed Michigan’s defensemen to play up more and put more pressure on the Spartans’ weaker blue line. In turn, that allowed Becker to score again, for Lockwood to tap in his team-leading 12th goal and Pastujov to net his second goal off Slaker’s third assist, in the third period to balloon the lead to 5-2.
“We’re blocking shots that’s the important thing,” Slaker said. “We know that they have a pretty lethal power play, especially with those three guys upon front. We paid the price with sticks in lanes, bodies in lanes.”
Added Pastujov: “Stay physically and don’t give them the time and space,” Pastujov said. “That’s the most important thing when guarding them. They don’t like to play in the defensive zone, so we got to get them in the offensive zone.”
Michigan State scored its second goal on a wrister from Adam Kramer four minutes into the third period, and again in a scrum behind the net, but it was too little too late.