DETROIT — With a shutout still looming for Michigan goalie Al Montoya in a 1-0 game — and only four minutes remaining on the clock — it seemed only a matter of time before Michigan State put a goal in the net. After all, four of the six times that the Wolverines have carried a shutout into the third stanza this season, their opponents have found a way to at least chip into their lead. During Friday’s 2-2 tie, and 1-1 final on Saturday, Michigan didn’t have the comfort of a big margin and the Wolverines ended up blowing leads on back-to-back nights.
Michigan coach Red Berenson said that it will all come together soon enough and those games will eventually fall into the win column. In the meantime, the second-place Ohio State Buckeyes have pulled to within one point of the Wolverines in the CCHA standings.
“At the end of the year, you can learn from experiences like this, or this can be the death of you,” senior captain Eric Nystrom said. “You can be out of the playoffs by not being able to capitalize on a team that’s down. And that’s something that we’ll have to see.”
Michigan State appeared to have scored first on Saturday when Bryan Lerg chopped at a puck that floated over Montoya and in the net midway through the first period. But the goal was quickly waved off because Spartan Tommy Goebel batted it in with his hand.
Nystrom got the Wolverines on the board first. Early in the second period, freshman Kevin Porter laid a pass over Jared Nightingale’s stick to Nystrom who simply tapped the puck past the right pad of a sliding Spartan goalie Dominic Vicari. The goal was the 50th of Nystrom’s career.
In the third, as if the script had already been written, the Spartans knotted the game up at one. With just over three minutes remaining, Montoya found the back of three jerseys — two Michigan State and one Wolverine — in front of him. The puck kicked around in the three players skates less than a foot in front of the Michigan netminder. In a move reminiscent of table hockey, Spartan forward Ash Goldie swung around and put the puck on Montoya and the rebound came out to a spinning Jim McKenzie. McKenzie took two swipes at the puck, knocking it past Montoya on his second swipe and tying the game at one.
“(Goldie) took a slap shot at the net, and it popped out right at my stick,” McKenzie said. “(It was) just a typical hard work, grinder, garbage goal.”
After the Michigan goal, Vicari stifled all attempts from the Wolverine forwards.
After spending most of Friday trying to shoot high in the net on the 5-foot-9 goalie, the Wolverines frequently attempted cross-ice one-timers. Michigan had come so close to scoring with that strategy that Spartan defender Colton Fretter drew a penalty with less than a minute left in the game when he hauled down a wide open Brandon Kaleneicki.
Perhaps the most important save of the night came on a one-timer, when Nystrom sent a pass across the crease to freshman Chad Kolarik with six seconds left. But Kolarik couldn’t make solid contact with the bouncing puck, and Vicari made another side-to-side save.
“The key to that shot is getting it along the ice,” Nystrom said. “And I think it popped up, and Vicari was there with his blocker.”
The overtime period saw Michigan creating clear scoring chances, but Vicari continued to stymie the Wolverine offense, and the teams skated to the tie.
Just a night earlier, as the buzzer sounded, Michigan State forward Drew Miller deflected a shot over Montoya’s glove to complete a two-goal comeback. Spartan captain Jim Slater took a kicked pass from Fretter in the corner and fired it at the net where Miller waited.
“I didn’t even know the (time on the) clock until I started skating back to the bench,” Fretter said. “And I looked up and said, ‘Oh crap, this better count.’ ”
It did count, and the Spartans took the Wolverines to overtime.
Michigan dominated both overtimes, out shooting the Spartans a combined 7-2 this weekend. But when the final horn sounded for both teams, neither held any advantage, splitting the four points.