The defensive effort that's turned Michigan State into one of the hottest teams in college hockey over the past month patrolled Mariucci Arena's ice on Friday night. The Spartans smothered the Gophers offense for a 4-2 victory and spoiled what could have been a milestone night for Gophers coach Don Lucia.
Kyle Rau scored two goals and gave the Gophers a shot at late comeback, but mistakes plagued them all night and gave the Spartans the opening they needed. Thomas Ebbing scored a power-play goal with 37 seconds left in the game after the Gophers turned it over in their own zone.
"All the sudden you start to do things on your own. Hockey is a game of 2-on-1, whether it's on offense or defense … start to play 1-on-1 hockey it's not going to work," Lucia said about the Gophers' turnover issues. "They're a good team and they've been playing good hockey. We knew that. … I thought they defended well and they were first to pucks."
Lucia's chance to celebrate win No. 391 and become the program's winningest coach in front of a home crowd faded early. The Gophers (18-11-3, 9-4-3 Big Ten) held the Spartans (14-14-2, 8-6-2-2) without a shot on goal for the opening seven minutes of the game while they produced four quality scoring chances. Then the dry spell set in while the Spartans' offense woke up.
Michigan State coach Tom Anastos said it was a better offensive effort that helped his defense shine.
"People keep talking about our defense, but I really think it's our puck possession and our offensive attack, especially tonight, that's allowed us to be better defensively," Anastos said. "I thought the guys, especially in the face of losing Travis Walsh, really stepped up and played some significant minutes out there and did it with a lot of poise against a real good team."
Walsh broke his jaw in Thursday's game after taking a puck to his helmet.
The Gophers were averaging 4.33 goals over the last nine games and scored five times in Thursday's win that tied Lucia with Doug Woog for the most program wins. They got off just 24 shots on goal on Friday and had only three through the first 15 minutes of the final period.
Lucia said he didn't think about the milestone; he said his concern was the sweep and claiming three points in the Big Ten standings.
A 17-game unbeaten streak against Big Ten opponents at Mariucci Arena ended, pushing their conference home record to 15-1-2 over the past two seasons.
Turnovers were a problem for the Gophers as they struggled to make quality passes out of their defensive zone and keep the puck in the offensive zone. Michigan State's third goal came after a turnover by Ben Marshall at mid-ice, and Michael Ferrantino broke in to score off a rebound.
Junior goaltender Adam Wilcox returned to the net for the series finale after getting a night off to rest a minor lower-body injury, but he didn't get much support in his 30-save effort.
Michigan State is 7-3 over its past 10 games.
"They were keeping us away from the front of the net and that's how we scored [Thursday] night. … They beat us 4-2 in front of our net," Rau said. "It would have been a great honor for [Lucia] to [win No. 391] in front of home fans, but that wasn't our goal, our goal was to sweep and that was what was most important for him, too."