Ann Arbor — The Michigan Wolverines have had their way with the Michigan State Spartans over the last three weeks.
But nobody can claim dominance more than sophomore goaltender Strauss Mann, who on Friday night at Yost Ice Arena stopped all 25 shots faced in a 3-0 win over MSU in Game 1 of the Big Ten tournament best-of-three quarterfinal.
Jake Slaker opened the scoring for the Wolverines (17-14-4, 11-10-3-2 Big 10) during a 5-on-3 man-advantage in the first before Johnny Beecher and Nick Pastujov put two past MSU goaltender John Lethemon in the second.
In his last three games against the Spartans dating to Feb. 14, Mann has stopped all but two of the 68 MSU shots he’s faced, earning a .970 save percentage and .667 goals against average in that span. The Wolverines have outscored their cross-state rival 12-2 in those games.
"It's getting like a broken record with him," Michigan head coach Mel Pearson said. "He's just outstanding. I thought he was our best player again tonight."
The three most recent games against MSU have been a far cry from the experience Mann had in his first two meetings with the Spartans, both losses, this season. He gave up seven goals in two games, getting chased from the second after allowing three on 12 shots.
"We're a different team than we were in November when we played them last," Mann said. "It's a game of inches. Sometimes pucks go in, sometimes they don't. Tonight we got the shutout, but just gotta stick with it and focus on tomorrow."
UM went 2-for-5 on the power play while successfully converting all five of MSU's opportunities on the man-advantage.
The Wolverines' biggest stand on the penalty kill came in the second period, when UM was called for three penalties in a 7:39 span.
"I think even by the end of the period, we gained some momentum by killing those penalties, which is big," Pastujov said. "They had a couple chances on one of them, but I think for the most part, we kept them out of the middle, kept them wide, and kept on chasing them deep."
The Spartans (15-18-2, 11-12-2-0) outshot UM 21-11 in the final two periods but couldn't beat Mann, who entered Friday's contest with the nation's sixth-best save percentage (.936) and seventh-best goals against average (1.97).
The Spartans struggled to get anything going early on, as UM led in the shots department by a 3-0 advantage when going on the game's first power play at 8:35.
"I really liked our start," Pearson said. "(I) thought we were ready to play. We forced the play."
MSU's Dennis Cesana put the Wolverines on a 5-on-3 man-advantage with 1:17 left on the original penalty to Logan Lambdin. A broken Spartans stick moments later opened things up even further for UM, allowing Slaker to park himself on the far-side post and bury a backdoor pass from Will Lockwood at 9:54.
"Getting a lead against a team like this is important," Pearson said. "As you can see, as a couple periods went on, they're hard to get to the net. They defend well, they keep things simple."
The Spartans registered their first shot of the game with 8:06 left in the opening period.
MSU caught its first break at 15:47, when UM was called for having too many men on the ice. The Spartans failed to register a shot on net during the power play and exited the period with just four shots total to its credit.
UM took a 2-0 lead just 2:52 into the middle frame. The Wolverines ran a perfectly executed play on a faceoff to Lethemon's right; Jacob Hayhurst drew the puck back to Luke Martin, who then found a cutting Johnny Beecher (Boston Bruins) for a slam dunk.
Afterward, Pearson confirmed that the team had "been working on" that play in practice.
"Get (the goaltender) moving across, kick it to the outside," Pearson said. "One guy goes backdoor, one goes to the front of the net. Beecher got the high tip. Good play."
The Spartans received their third power play of the second period at 12:17. Mann made several big stops to keep the Wolverines up 2-0 as the slashing penalty to Nick Granowicz expired.
After MSU's Jagger Joshua was sent to the box with 10 seconds left in the period, the Wolverines again scored off a faceoff to go up 3-0, Pastujov's ninth goal of the season.
"Three is just such a dagger, especially late like that," Pastujov said. "It kind of changes your whole mindset going into the third. They had to play a little more risky, they had a lot bigger hole to climb out of. We could just kind of sit back and play more reserved."
Pastujov (New York Islanders) crashed the faceoff dot, got off a shot that bounced right back to him, and buried the second attempt short-side as Lethemon failed to recover.
The Spartans again outshot the Wolverines in the third period, but couldn't muster many scoring chances of substance.
Big Ten hockey tournament
All times Eastern; x-if necessary
►No. 6 Michigan State at No. 3 Michigan
Game 1: Michigan, 3-0
Game 2: Saturday, 7
x-Game 3: Sunday, 5
►No. 7 Wisconsin at No. 2 Ohio State
Game 1: Ohio State, 9-1
Game 2: Saturday, 7
x-Game 3: Sunday, 7
►No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 4 Minnesota
Game 1: Notre Dame, 1-0
Game 2: Saturday, 8
x-Game 3: Sunday, 7
Note: No. 1 seed Penn State earns bye to single-elimination semifinals March 14-15.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.