Detroit — Hayden Lavigne may have gotten the start in net, but it was Michigan’s Joseph Cecconi who made the biggest save of Saturday night’s "Duel in the D" at Little Caesars Arena.
With a one-goal lead late in the third period, Cecconi rescued his down-and-out goaltender, sending every part of his lower body barreling past the goal line as he used his chest to stop a shot from Michigan State’s Cody Milan that was earmarked for the top shelf — the defining moment in an intense 3-2 Michigan victory.
BOX SCORE: Michigan 3, Michigan State 2
“Obviously, Michigan and Michigan State, we don’t really like each other too much,” said Quinn Hughes, who scored the winner. “As the game was going on, it was getting heavier and faster, so it was a good win for us.”
Cooper Marody got the scoring started for No. 19 Michigan (14-3-3, 9-10-3-2 Big Ten) at 4:22 of the first period with his 11th of the season. Tony Calderone caught a rebound to the right of MSU goalie John Lethemon, patiently waiting for the sophomore goaltender to challenge his shot before dishing it to Marody just outside the crease for a slam dunk goal. Griffin Luce picked up the second assist.
Marody added an assist on the Wolverines' third goal, giving him eight points in his last three games at LCA and Joe Louis Arena.
“He’s from here, he loves playing (here), whether it’s Joe Louis Arena or here at Little Caesars,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “He should have had, I think, five or six points tonight.”
Much like the night before, when he stopped 37-of-38 Michigan shots, Lethemon was faced with a heavy workload. The Michigan State goaltender was forced all over the blue paint in the butterfly position, scrambling to make saves on second-chance opportunities, redirected shots and one-time attempts from a Wolverine offense that was moving the puck well in its offensive zone and landed 33 shots on net.
It seemed that every time the Spartans (10-18-2, 4-14-2-1 Big Ten) were starting to pick up some momentum offensively, they reversed their fortune with an untimely penalty. They spent 23 minutes short-handed.
A few minutes past the midway point of the second, Mitch Lewandoski had his best opportunity of the night, a redirection that was stopped by a sprawling Lavigne. Moments later at 13:34, Lewandowski ran Michigan forward Brendan Warren from behind, earning himself a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
Only this time, the Spartan penalty kill unit couldn’t bail itself out. With five seconds remaining in the Lewandowski major, Jack Becker made it 2-0, banking in a rebound assisted by Adam Winborg and Nick Pastujov at 18:30.
Despite spending so much time on the penalty kill, Michigan State coach Danton Cole didn’t regret his team’s physical approach.
“We don’t want to take away from the aggressive side of it,” Cole added. “Yeah you got to take less penalties, but sometimes that’s just the time of the game. Every time we got rolling and boom, we had to come back and kill. All but five seconds we did a real good job with it.”
“We have to have a little reckless abandon, and you got to not think, and you got to play downhill.”
As is usually the case, Michigan State’s KHL line of Patrick Khodorenko, Taro Hirose and Lewandoski were the team’s leading producers on offense. Despite Lewandoski’s ejection, the group managed to account for 38 percent of its team’s shots on goal.
Michigan State’s offense woke up in the third. Hirose fired a shot past Lavigne at 0:21 with a goal assisted by Khodorenko that awakened the Spartan faithful and added some juice into the Michigan State attack.
“Pat decided to call an over the top play. He won the faceoff really good, and Keith sort of cut their guy off and gave me a little room,” Hirose said. “I just got to the middle of the ice and tried to get one on net, and thankfully it went low-blocker.”
Lavigne had himself another quality performance in net, making 32 saves. His night was capped by an impressive stop on Khodorenko during a Michigan penalty kill that started at 11:46 in the third.
If there was ever an instance that confirmed the notion that the best offense is a great defense, that was it. Thirty seconds after the Dexter Dancs penalty expired, Michigan came back the other way and added to its lead.
The Wolverines stretched out Lethemon again, making him a sitting duck for a one-time goal from Hughes. Cecconi and Marody assisted.
“Coop made a nice play coming down the ice, I saw Quinn coming in late, and once you get him the puck he can do a lot of good things,” Cecconi said.
Hughes’ goal wasn’t enough to put the Spartans away, however, as they struck again just 1:19 later with a goal from David Keefer that gave Khodorenko his second assist of the night.
“I thought we were playing faster,” Khodorenko said of his team’s third-period effort.
“Everyone was going, (the second forward line) was not being hesitant, we were just getting pucks deep and getting on their D, and we were getting a lot of chances just from that.”
The Spartans gained a handful of chances in the game’s final minutes. They peppered the Michigan goaltender from every area of the offensive zone, but it was to no avail.
For Pearson, the win was a teaching moment for his young squad.
“We’ve got to learn how to play in tight games with a lead when there’s a lot on the line,” Pearson said. “We’ve got the third-youngest team in college hockey, and it’s not an excuse.”
“Maybe we have a lot of guys who haven’t been in this position, in these games. We’ve got to learn. It’s nice to learn some lessons from winning.”
Michigan 1, MSU 1 (UM wins in shootout): In East Lansing, Tony Calderone scored the lone shootout goal for Michigan, and Hughes had the goal in regulation. Carson Gatt scored for Michigan State while Lethemon stopped 37 shots.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer