Five.

That’s how many times a Michigan player sat in the penalty box and watched as his teammates faced a man disadvantage on Friday night. But each time the Wolverine penalty killers skated over the boards for a shift, they came back to the bench not having surrendered a goal.

“Guys battled hard, a lot of blocked shots,” sophomore goaltender Strauss Mann said. “I thought we were really aggressive and got some really good clears. Didn’t give them much. If you don’t really let them set up too much, it’s hard to get much going. They were great clearing out rebounds when those were there as well.”

Friday night, Michigan’s penalty killing efforts made an impact. The first time it was tested, the Wolverines had a one-goal lead. That could’ve easily vanished with the flick of a Michigan State skater’s stick. But the Spartans tallied only one shot during their two-minute advantage. The shot didn’t even make it all the way to Mann though, one of the penalty killers had blocked it.

The majority of the penalty, Michigan had control. 

It wasn’t tested again until the second period, where in just under eight minutes it accrued three penalties. Circumstances were slightly different this time. The Wolverines had built a two goal lead about 90 seconds before sophomore Jack Summers went to the box for hooking.

And again, Michigan held Michigan State’s powerplay to a single shot on net. Junior forward Dakota Raabe even generated offense on the kill, taking a quick snipe at Spartan goaltender John Lethemon. 

“Our guys did a good job,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “We were a little more aggressive tonight than we have been, and I think that really helped us. And then of course, the blocked shots.”

Out of 49 attempted shots by Michigan State, the Wolverines blocked 11 of them. They only allowed seven total shots across the five powerplays. Three-and-a-half minutes after Summers went to the box, freshman forward Johnny Beecher was whistled for tripping. And once again, Michigan sent four players on the ice, and they all returned to the bench having done their jobs. 

They got sticks in shooting lanes. Sacrificed their bodies. Won important faceoffs. Cleared the puck deep. It was nearly impossible for the Spartans to even get a puck on net.

By the time freshman forward Nick Granowicz went to the box for slashing at 12:17 in the second, going on the penalty kill felt routine. On its third man advantage of the period, Michigan State mustered more offense than the Wolverines had seen previously. It tallied five shots. 

But Mann and the penalty killers shut down these attempts with ease.

“I think even by the end of the period we gained some momentum by killing those penalties which is big,” senior forward Nick Pastujov said. “They really, they had a couple chances on one of them, but I think for the most part we kept them out of the middle, kept them wide and kept them chasing it deep. From a team perspective, that’s really huge, especially in a 2-0 game, they can get right back into it.”

But the Spartans never got back in the game, and Michigan came away with a 3-0 win. They never managed to close the gap Michigan’s offense had built and its penalty kill maintained. The Wolverines never allowed Michigan State to feel like it had a chance. And a lot of that should be credited to the effort of Mann and the penalty killers.

Now that it’s playoff time, every man disadvantage matters significantly. It’s an obvious opportunity for an opposing team to generate offense, to extend a team’s lead or close in on Michigan’s. 

Friday night, the penalty kill was perfect. And sure, Pearson wishes the penalty killers weren’t tested five times. But they showed their strength, determination and willingness to sacrifice their bodies. That could prove to be important not just in the remaining games of the Big Ten quarterfinals, but in any game Michigan plays in moving forward. 

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