Dustin Gazely's late third-period score proved to be the difference as the 12th-ranked Michigan State moved back into a tie with 14th-ranked Ferris State University men's ice hockey team for second place in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) with a 3-2 victory over the Bulldogs Saturday (Feb. 20) night at MSU's Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing, Mich.
The loss snaps Ferris State's two-game winless streak as the Bulldogs fall to 19-11-4 overall and 13-9-4-3 in the league. Meanwhile, Michigan State ends its four-game winless skid as the Spartans improve to 18-11-5 overall and 13-8-5-2 in the CCHA. Both teams are now tied for second place in the league with 46 points apiece going into next weekend's final regular-season series.
The game was scoreless for the opening 4:51 of the contest before Michigan State broke through first on a score by Andrew Rowe. Matt Crandell blasted a shot from high above the left circle which rebounded off junior goaltender Pat Nagle (Bloomfield) to Rowe, who promptly tipped the puck over the Bulldog netminder on the left side of the crease. The Spartans maintained their one-goal lead for most of the first period before Ferris State knotted the score at 1-1 with 3:27 left in the frame on junior center Justin Menke's (Shamrock, Saskatchewan) eighth goal of the season. Junior Zach Redmond (Traverse City) and sophomore Chad Billins (Marysville), FSU's top line defensively, passed the puck back and forth between them inside the blueline before Billins fired a shot on the Spartans' goal from above the left circle. The puck deflected off a MSU skater to the opposite side where Justin Menke scored from between the goal line and right circle for the man-advantage equalizer.
Michigan State, which was outshot 14-5 in the opening period, went ahead 2-1 at the 9:35 mark on the clock following Jay Sprague's first lamplighter of the season. Sprague scored via a rebound shot which sailed over Pat Nagle's left shoulder into the upper right corner of the Bulldog net. Chad Billins would put the Bulldogs back into a tie on a short-handed goal with 3:11 left in the frame. Billins recorded his third goal of the season after taking junior left wing Mike Embach's (Orland Park, Ill.) cross-ice pass and skating in on MSU goaltender Drew Palmisano from the left circle. Billins deked Palmisano and proceeded to back hand the puck between the Spartan goalie's five hole to knot the game up at 2-2. Michigan State would claim a 10-6 advantage in shots for the second 20 minutes of action.
The score remained deadlocked at two goals apiece for the third period's first 12:31 until Michigan State cut the tie on Dustin Gazley's goal. MSU set up its scoring play when Daultan Leveille gained possession of the puck near the right corner wall and fed a perfect pass over to Gazley just outside the left edge of the crease. Gazley tapped the puck into the Ferris goal past a sprawling Pat Nagle to the Bulldog netminder's stick side to complete the contest's scoring.
Pat Nagle (10-8-1) concluded the game with 23 saves in 58:50 minutes of action between the posts while Drew Palmisano (14-9-4) turned away 25 shots in a complete-game performance. Ferris State managed a slim 27-26 advantage in shots on goal for the CCHA matchup between the two nationally-ranked in-state teams.
The Bulldogs will conclude the regular season next weekend, Feb. 26-27, with a home-and-home CCHA series against the Western Michigan Broncos. Ferris State hosts WMU in next Friday's (Feb. 26) series opener at FSU's Ewigleben Ice Arena in Big Rapids, Mich. Prior to the 7:05 p.m. (EST) opening faceoff, the six seniors on the 2009-10 team will be recognized in a special ceremony. The Bulldogs will then venture to Kalamazoo, Mich., on Saturday (Feb. 27) for the regular-season finale. The contest is slated for a 7:35 p.m. (EST) start at WMU's Lawson Ice Arena.
Notes: Chad Billins' short-handed goal represented the first of his career and the Bulldogs' fourth shortie of this season . . . Justin Menke's goal not only marked his third career tally against Michigan State, but also his team-best seventh career point versus the Spartans . . . Tonight's game will be shown on the Big Ten Network this Monday (Feb. 22) at 10 a.m. (EST) . . . Chad Billins produced a two-point night with a lamplighter and a helper.