EAST LANSING – With the help of three power-play goals, the Michigan State hockey team defeated Minnesota 5-3 on Saturday night at Munn Ice Arena in the first of a two-game series with the Golden Gophers. Taro Hirose upped his NCAA-leading assist total to 27 with helpers on each of the Spartans’ first three goals, while Mitchell Lewandowski scored twice and defenseman Dennis Cesana also had three assists.
“I thought our guys played a really intense, really good hockey game and I’m proud of them,” MSU head coach Danton Cole said. “If we play hard like that we’re not a bad team.”
The Spartans (8-12-3, 4-7-2-2 B1G) found themselves down 1-0 less than five minutes into the game on a goal by Minnesota’s Sammy Walker, but pushed back late in the period with two power-play goals in a span of 2:15.
Hirose and Cesana combined to set up Lewandowski for the first MSU goal with 5:41 to play in the period. Hirose got the puck from Cesana and settled into the half boards where he played catch with Lewandowski in the low slot, eventually sending a perfect pass that Lewandowski tipped into the far corner of the net.
The Spartans made it 2-1 by converting just eight seconds into their second power-play opportunity. Patrick Khodorenko won the draw back to Hirose, who quickly got the puck back to Cesana at the point. Cesana let go a low shot that Khodorenko tipped up high, just under the crossbar for his 14th goal of the season with 3:26 to play in the period.
Michigan State extended its lead to 3-1 as the Spartans got the only goal of the second with 3:26 to play in the stanza. Hirose got the primary assist on the goal but started the play long before that when he dumped the puck from near center ice into the far right corner, allowing Khodorenko to retrieve it. MSU set up in the Minnesota zone and after Christian Krygier got the puck to Hirose at the point, Hirose waited and sent the puck toward the net to a charging Lewandowsk from the left side, who tipped up and past Robson.
Two penalties to the Spartans late in the second period and then two more early in the third gave Minnesota several chances to get back into the game. However, the Spartans extinguished all four Gopher power plays and as the fourth expired, Minnesota was called for two separate penalties, giving MSU a 5-on-3 advantage.
Michigan State cashed in as a persistent Cody Milan dug for the loose puck just off the top of the crease and then put it into the net with 10:24 to play in the third to make it 4-1. Khodorenko and Cesana both got assists on the goals.
Minnesota (9-9-4, 6-4-3-0 B1G) made it a one-goal game on goals by Brannon McManus with 7:15 to play and then Rem Pitlick with 4:23 to go.
Minnesota pulled Robson for the extra attacker with just over two minutes to go and the Spartans held on before Jerad Rosburg’s empty-netter from deep in the MSU zone sealed the victory to make it 5-3 with 12 seconds to play.
Spartan goaltender John Lethemon picked up an assist on the Rosburg goal to go along with a 36-save performance in the win.
MSU finished the game 3-for-4 on the power play and held Minnesota to 1-for-6. MSU outshot Minnesota 42-38.
“I always say the Big Ten is like all playoff games, that’s just what it feels like. Now we have to come back and do it again tomorrow,” Cole said. “You know in the playoffs the power play and penalty kill are huge and tonight that was a big difference.”
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