Michigan hockey rolls past Michigan State, 7-3, to continue 'Dual in the D' dominance

By Steve Kornacki
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit — The Wolverines ran their “Dual in the D” winning streak over the Spartans to five games Saturday night with a 7-3 win in the annual hockey game at Little Caesars Arena.

No. 4-ranked Michigan (23-7-1, 14-6 Big Ten) became the first team to exceed five goals in the six-game series, which began with a Michigan State victory in 2016 at Joe Louis Arena.

Forward Jimmy Lambert, shown here in 2019, scored twice in Michigan's 7-3 victory over Michigan State on Saturday night at Little Caesars Arena.

Jimmy Lambert scored twice for UM and Nash Nienhuis of Sarnia, Ontario, notched a pair for MSU.

The Wolverines took a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Florida Panthers draft pick Mackie Samoskevich (No. 7 on the season) and Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick Dylan Duke (No. 6).

However, the Spartans (11-18-1, 5-15 Big Ten) had a prime opportunity to catch up when Wolverine first-line left wing Mark Estapa drew a major penalty game misconduct that provided the Spartans a five-minute power play at 7:09 of the second period.

Estapa, from St. Clair, also was ejected for the rest of the game for the hit from behind.

What happened at that point determined the game’s outcome as Michigan scored twice to take a 4-0 lead before MSU scored twice in the final 1:02 of the man advantage.

So, the time to take advantage for the Spartans became a 2-2 draw.

Still, Michigan coach Mel Pearson wasn’t pleased with the lack of blocked shots at that point in the game for his goalie Erik Portillo, who brought a 2.13 goals-against average and .928 save percentage into the game.

“They got two power-play goals because we didn’t want to get in front of the shots,” Pearson said. “We have to play better in the support area because Erik is playing as good as anybody I’ve seen — any goalie in the country.

“They had some good opportunities tonight, but he was really good (in making 22 saves).”

The Wolverines made it 3-0 on the prettiest play of the game. Luke Hughes, the fourth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft by the New Jersey Devils, won a battle for the puck on the boards and crossed the blue line. He angled in from the right side and got a defender to hit the ice before threading a perfect pass to Lambert.

Lambert had the left half of the net open and he didn’t miss it.

“He skates like the wind and so all I had to do was be ready for it” said Lambert, “and eventually it would end up on my tape. And that’s what he did with a perfect saucer pass. I didn’t have to do much but put it in the net.”

Hughes exhibits joy in his play and was asked about that.

“First off, you’re playing in front of 15,000 fans — which is super cool,” said Hughes, who is from Plymouth. “I think our entire team was excited about that. We saw all the Michigan people who came out to support our school and the pride that they brought.

“That makes you have fun, having people watching you play.”

Then Thomas Bordeleau scored his eighth of the year to make it 4-0 after gathering a turnover at center ice and cruising in on goalie Drew DeRidder. Bordeleau got him to drop and went top shelf.

However, MSU didn’t quit at a point where it was a challenge to dig down deep and produce.

Nienhuis scored, and 33 seconds later Dennis Cesana notched goal No. 7.

“We knew that we had to get something back here,” said Nienhuis, “and we said that (to one another). We had to deliver, but it wasn’t enough.”

So, at 11:41 in the second period, the Spartans were hanging in, trying to overcome the No. 1-ranked team in the PairWise Rankings used to determine NCAA Tournament seeds and berths.

“I liked some of the push-back,” MSU coach Danton Cole said. “We gave up a couple of shorties, and then (we) come back and get two. But then we just kept giving up the next one — which was unfortunate.”

Lambert’s second goal, coming at 15:09 of the second period, got the lead back up to three goals. He swooped in from the left to score on the right side of the net for his fourth of the season.

Then Nienhuis scored his second of the game and third of the season to again make it a two-goal game, but Nick Granowicz of Macomb answered with his first goal this year for the Wolverines.

Hughes scored the only goal of the third period at 19:44, his 13th of the season.

Michigan also won, 6-2, Friday night in Ann Arbor to score 13 goals in two nights against DeRidder, who entered the weekend with a .934 save percentage that ranked fourth in Division I.

The Wolverines were without their four leading scorers. Matty Berniers and Brendan Brisson were playing for the U.S., while Owen Power and Kent Johnson were with the Canadian team at the Winter Olympics.

“It’s nice and obviously a good feeling for yourself,” said Lambert of his big game, adding that his parents were in attendance from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. “But the way we played the whole weekend is an even better feeling.

“We lost some of our best players and had some guys really step up into some bigger roles. It’s further proof of our depth.”

It was the 10th consecutive loss for the Spartans, who have lost nine of the last 10 encounters with Michigan.

“Whoever wants it the most (in the rivalry) usually wins that particular night,” said Lambert, “and I think in this game we wanted it more.”

Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.