Columbus, Ohio - Last weekend, Michigan State lost a shutout at Notre Dame with 38 seconds remaining in regulation and settled for a tie. On Saturday, the Spartans exploded for three third-period tallies and Jeff Lerg made 23 saves for his first shutout of the season in a 4-0 victory at Ohio State to complete the weekend sweep. With a 1-0 lead at the second intermission, Justin Abdelkader scored twice in a three-goal final period, Tim Kennedy had a pair of helpers, and Chris Mueller potted a shorthanded goal for the Spartans, who extended their unbeaten streak to six games (4-0-2) and improved to 16-5-4, 12-2-2 CCHA. Ohio State falls to 7-17-2, 3-12-1 in conference games.
Michigan State did its part to keep pace with league-leading Michigan and Miami, both winners on Saturday, and also extended a three-point cushion ahead of fourth-place Notre Dame. The Spartans have two games in hand on both the Red Hawks and Irish, and will face off with top-ranked Michigan next weekend in a home-and-home series which will have serious implications on the CCHA regular-season title chase.
"I thought that Jeff Lerg was great tonight, and we really responded well with a strong third period," noted Rick Comley after the victory. "Jeff probably deserved to have two or three shutouts before this, but had a couple of bad bounces. He's very modest - he's really an outstanding player who is the backbone of our team."
Lerg turned in his fourth consecutive performance of allowing a goal or less. The two-time defending CCHA Goaltender of the week made himself a strong case for a three-peat, stopping 50 of 51 shots against on the weekend and improving his personal stats to a .922 save percentage and a 2.28 GAA.
As they did a night ago, the Spartans opened the scoring with a power-play tally early in the game. Tim Crowder initiated the play in the left circle, sending the puck low for Bryan Lerg. Lerg's shot was saved by freshman goaltender Dustin Carlson, making his fifth career start. The rebound came out to the right side for Matt Schepke, who backhanded the puck past Carlson's glove hand.
The Spartans held a 22-15 edge in shots at the end of two periods, and both goaltenders came up with big saves to keep the game tight in the middle frame. The Spartans, who opened the period on the penalty kill, took three consecutive penalties early and spent nearly the entire opening 10 minutes shorthanded. Midway through the frame, the Buckeyes manufactured a two-on-one break, but John Albert held the puck too long as he came up the left side, and allowed MSU blueliner Justin Johnston to make a nice play to break it up before the puck could get to Lerg. MSU had great chances late, including a point-blank shot by Brandon Gentile, but Carlson made the nice glove save to keep it a one-goal game.
MSU, determined to come out strong for the final frame, doubled their lead 28 seconds into the third. Tim Kennedy got the puck deep for Corey Tropp, who fed Justin Abdelkader in the slot. Abdelkader put the puck high into the right corner of the net for his second goal in as many nights. The junior padded the lead further with his 11th goal of the season at 10:31. Skating on the power play, Michael Ratchuk made a nice pass to Abdelkader from the top of the left circle to the right dot, and Abdelkader one-timed the puck glove-side.
Chris Mueller put the Spartans up 4-0 with a shorthanded goal at 13:57. Mueller took the feed from Gentile and raced up the right side, beating Carlson five-hole. The puck rocketed in and out of the net - the goal was not signaled right away, and play continued. At the next whistle - 42 seconds later - the play was reviewed by referee Keith Sergott - the goal was counted, and the play resumed with 6:03 on the clock. Though the Buckeyes tried desperately to break up the shutout, Jeff Lerg stood tall and preserved his first whitewash of the season.
Michigan State turns its attention to the first of two Michigan series, which kicks off on Friday at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor. FSN Detroit will carry both games of the series, with the puck dropping both nights at 7:35 p.m. A limited number of tickets remain for the game on Saturday at Munn Arena.