East Lansing, Mich. - Matt Butcher's overtime goal on a power play rush gave Northern Michigan a win over Michigan State on Sunday night at Munn Ice Arena. The Wildcats advance to next weekend's CCHA Championship weekend in Detroit, while Michigan State will miss the event for the first time in 17 years and just the second time in 27 seasons.
Michigan State had forced the overtime session with its goal with just over three minutes remaining in regulation. Both goaltenders were superb in the game - Brian Stewart finished with 41 stops in game three, while Jeff Lerg made 34 stops. Lerg allowed just six goals in the series, but the Spartans struggled to score on Stewart in games two and three, putting just three goals past the netminder after a five-goal outburst in game one Friday night.
Butcher's goal came on a three-on-two rush while skating on the power play. Senior captain Bryan Lerg was whistled for boarding at 9:10. The Spartans had killed most of the advantage and were pushing for a shorthanded chance when the play turned as an MSU player was hauled down in the neutral zone - the ensuing rush back for the Wildcats led to the odd-man, and Butcher's shot from the right circle found its mark.
Nick Sucharski had sent the game to overtime with his goal at 17:02 of the third. Ryan Turek, playing his first game at forward this season, kept the puck low and dished to Justin Abdelkader just to the left of goaltender Brian Stewart. Abdelkader went back to Turek with the puck, and Turek moved behind the cage and to the far post, where he passed in front to Sucharski on the doorstep. Stewart was screened, and Sucharski lifted the puck past the glove hand of the netminder for the equalizer.
Northern Michigan took the lead in the game at 17:51 of the first, after a sustained period of Spartan pressure. MSU had seen good looks at the net, and Jeff Petry had rung the post on a booming slapshot from the point. On a three-on-two break, Ray Kaunisto dished the puck before being hit into the boards, and Andrew Saraurer carried the pass into the slot and backhanded a shot stick-side past Jeff Lerg.
The Spartans tied the game 3:48 into the middle period. A Northern Michigan clearing attempt ricocheted off the skate of Tim Crowder and right to an opportunistic Bryan Lerg, who deked and beat Brian Stewart for his 20th goal of the season.
Corey Tropp hit the post - the third one in the game for the Spartans - on a break with Tim Kennedy and Justin Abdelkader just over the halfway point of the period, and the Wildcats had one not long after when Nick Sirota's shot hit the left iron on the power play. Just after the penalty expired, the Wildcats were sustaining pressure low in the zone, and Phil Fox attempted a pass into the low slot that deflected into the net off a Michigan State defender's stick. Fox was credited with the tally, his 13th of the season.
The Wildcats went down two men in the final five minutes - after Matt Butcher was whistled for a hold, Nick Sirota was whistled for goaltender interference; Sirota went full speed into the offensive zone in chase of a clearing pass, and Jeff Lerg came out to play the puck. Sirota went full-speed into Lerg, and put the Spartans with a five-on-three for 90 seconds. Stewart kept the Spartans off the board, however - not only during the extended advantage, but also during the final two minutes when MSU was buzzing deep in the zone pressing for an equalizer.
The third period followed much of the same script- both goalies made big saves to keep their teams in the game, and the action was end-to-end. Jeff Lerg made 10 saves in the period , while Stewart countered with a dozen - but the one he didn't see, Sucharski's from the doorstep, sent the game into an extra session.
Michigan State must now play a waiting game to see if it is an at-large selection to the NCAA Tournament field. The NCAA selection show is Sunday, March 23 at 11:30 a.m.