DETROIT — The sixth-ranked Wolverines have enjoyed continued success at Joe Louis Arena recently.
Heading into Saturday’s matchup with Michigan State, the Michigan hockey team saw its name adorned twice atop the rafters at the Joe, as the 2010 Great Lakes Invitational Champions banner hung next to the CCHA Playoff Champions banner from last season.
And coming off back-to-back weekend sweeps, a trip to Joe Louis Arena for one game appeared to be just what the doctor ordered to keep things rolling for Michigan (14-5-1 CCHA, 17-7-4 overall).
But two unsuccessful power play attempts — one with the Spartans’ best defender Torey Krug in the box — and a missed penalty shot later forced the Wolverines to drop their first Saturday night game all season, 2-1.
“You knew it would be a close game,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said Saturday. “You knew how precious goals would be. We knew if Michigan State got the first goal, it could be a tough game … We had the chances, the penalty shot. We’re disappointed with the outcome. We had our chances at the end, but when you’re playing from behind, it’s always tougher to score.”
In each of the Wolverines’ and Spartans’ previous three matchups this season, one of the teams had scored at least four goals. But Saturday’s game featured strong goaltending on both sides and missed opportunities for the Michigan offense.
After a penalty-free and scoreless first period, the Wolverines were awarded the first two power plays of the second period. The first Michigan man-advantage went for naught, as the Wolverines had difficulty even keeping the puck in the Michigan State zone.
But when Krug went to the box for a high-sticking call that tripped up senior forward Matt Rust, it looked as if something was finally going to give. While the Wolverines fired three shots on that power play, they couldn’t find a way past Spartan netminder Will Yanakeff.
It took just over 39 minutes for someone to light the lamp at the Joe, but both teams got on the board in the final minute of the second frame.
The Spartans (7-11-2, 11-3-4) scored the first goal of the game with 53 seconds left in the second period. On the power play, Michigan State freshman Jake Chelios fired a shot from the slot that passed senior netminder Shawn Hunwick to get the Spartans out to the early lead.
Michigan responded just 33 seconds later. Senior forward Louie Caporusso slid the puck across the crease and scored on Yanakeff. The equalizer was Caporusso’s eighth goal of the season, but his first tally in one month — his last goal came at the Joe in the GLI Championship against Colorado College.
“Those last minute goals are important goals, and that was an important goal for us,” Berenson said. “It was a great effort by Louie, and you wanted that to go into the (third) period. I can’t say it did.”
The Spartans went up 2-1 just under eight minutes into the third period on a shot from the point through traffic that Michigan State sophomore Joey Shean picked up down low and slid past Hunwick.
Just over two minutes later — with five minutes remaining in the game — the Wolverines got their best chance of the night when sophomore forward Kevin Lynch was given a penalty shot after being tripped on a breakaway.
At the time the penalty shot was awarded, Michigan and Michigan State were on a 4-on-4 due to roughing, and Berenson elected to have Lynch take the penalty shot instead of taking the 4-on-3 power play option.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, Lynch missed the opportunity to tie the game up at two, as his shot hit Yanakeff’s left pad.
“Penalty shots, they’re not easy to score,” Caporusso said. “They’re tough. I kind of felt bad for him. All that pressure, everyone is going crazy. (After he missed the shot) we thought we’d just keep coming.
“That’s our plan, we always try to play consistent hockey, try to keep coming, keep coming. Unfortunately, they got one, and we were unable to (respond).”
Saturday’s loss to the Spartans snapped Michigan’s five-game win streak and dropped the Wolverines back to second place in the CCHA.
Heading into two games at Miami (Ohio), the Wolverines know they need to put this game — and the chances they couldn’t capitalize on — behind them to come out firing against the team that ended Michigan’s season in the NCAA regional last year.
“You’ve got to give credit to Michigan State,” Caporusso said. “I thought they did a great job. They handled us in our zone at times … that can be frustrating. We’re playing pretty consistent hockey, and we didn’t give it our best today. We weren’t good in an awful lot of areas around the ice. We’ll be better come next week.”