After having blown a two-goal lead, the Michigan hockey team (3-6-2 overall, 0-4-1-0 Big Ten) found itself trailing by one midway through the final period against Michigan State (4-5-0, 2-1-0-0).
The Wolverines looked like they’d have a power play soon after to potentially tie the game, when a Spartan player got called for cross-checking. But junior forward Michael Pastujov fought back after the whistle thus cancelling the man advantage.
“You can just see it on the bench, that energy. Everybody sees it,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson of losing the opportunity. “Guys that are standing on the bench, going just ‘Mikey, Mikey’ and that to me it’s not a good penalty. Not saving a goal, not protecting a teammate, it’s a selfish penalty and we’ve got to get rid of that stuff, especially when you’re clawing and doing everything you can to win a game.”
Before the final buzzer, Michigan would end up getting one final power play, on which it pulled goaltender Strauss Mann for six-on-four hockey. But even then, the result was the same as it has been for most of the season. The Wolverines failed to convert and ultimately fell, 4-3, Thursday night at Yost Ice Arena.
Michigan excelled offensively for much of the second period to build its lead, but it couldn’t maintain consistency.
“We just let off the gas,” said sophomore defenseman Nick Blankenburg. “We didn’t play a full 60 minutes, and, yeah. That’s just what happened. We let off the gas.”
The game, overall, was somewhat a flipped script of how the Wolverines have played in previous games. In the past, the defense and goaltending held their ground while the offense struggled to score. Against Michigan State, though, the offense created at times while some of the key mistakes came in the defensive zone.
For instance, just under nine minutes into the third period Michigan failed to finish out a penalty kill strong. As a result, forward Logan Lambdin scored the final goal from the low slot in the dying seconds of the penalty.
The game started slow for both offenses. The opening period was relatively calm for the goaltenders, as players from each side frequently lost possession quickly upon entering the offensive zone. So, it seemed the first period would end as the majority of this season have — scoreless for the Wolverines.
But a few possessions later, Michigan changed the script. Junior forward Dakota Raabe skated down the left side of the offensive zone while slowing down to buy time. He handled the puck before turning and sending a pass backwards and into the slot to Blankenburg. Blankenburg soon sent a wrister into the net to give the Wolverines their first goal of the night.
That goal was the start of the high-scoring affair, but in the end, Michigan couldn’t keep up.
The Wolverines went on their first penalty kill of the night early in the second period, when sophomore forward Garrett Van Wyhe got called for kneeing.
After the defense successfully killed the penalty, Van Wyhe and a handful of others headed toward the net. Senior forward Nick Pastujov gained possession near Michigan State’s goal post and wrapped around to send the puck toward the crease. It bounced around and somehow found its way to Van Wyhe who capitalized. The play was reviewed for goalie interference, but it stood, thus doubling the lead.
But before the announcers had even finished describing the goal, the Spartans struck back when defenseman Butrus Ghafari snuck one past sophomore goaltender Strauss Mann from near the left circle.
A couple minutes later, though, freshman forward Johnny Beecher brought the puck toward the left side of the red line and took a snipe from a weird angle. It slipped just past goaltender John Lethemon’s shoulder and into the top right corner, thus giving Michigan a 3-1 lead.
But Michigan State responded again in the final minute of the second. A shot from deep missed wide and bounced back in play, and then forward Patrick Khodorenko swept in to make it a one-goal affair.
“There’s gonna be adversity and there’s gonna be highs and there’s gonna be lows,” Blankenburg said of the momentum swing. “And I think we just have to deal with those the right way on the bench and on the ice and support each other.”
And then less than five minutes into the third, Raabe tried to pass across the defensive zone but the Spartans intercepted and leveled the game.
The rest of the third period was troublesome for the Wolverines. They were outshot, gave up another goal and couldn’t create on the power play when it mattered. And as a result, they are still searching for their first conference win of the season.
“Just gotta play smarter,” Pearson said. “That’s the biggest thing and just manage the game better. Like even tonight, we get up 2-0, and that next shift, that next change and momentum shift we have to make sure we’re ready for it.”