By Matt Bishop, Special to MiCHO
DETROIT — With three weeks in between games, No. 14 Michigan State got a much-needed power boost Friday afternoon.
Despite the Spartans power play being ranked eighth in the CCHA and Harvard boasting ECACHL's third best penalty kill, MSU took advantage of its power play opportunities, going 3-of-5 with the man advantage while cruising to a 5-2 win over the Crimson in the opening game of the Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena.
"It's funny on the power play," Michigan State head coach Rick Comley said. "Sometimes you go stretches where nothing happens and nothing works and you're not really doing anything differently."
Friday's contest marks just the third time this season that the Spartans anemic power play has scored more than two goals with the man advantage in a game.
"We were all over the puck tonight," Spartans center Bryan Lerg said.
The Spartans got on the board first at the 11:41 mark of contest when Lerg (pictured) picked up his own rebound on the doorstep and flipped it past Harvard goaltender Justin Tobe (Northville).
Then, six minutes later, the Spartans capitalized on another Harvard penalty when Tyler Howells pounced on yet another rebound to give Michigan State a 2-0 edge.
"It didn't seem like Michigan State worked very hard for their first two goals," Harvard head coach Ted Donato said. "But we really battled back and in the second period we got rewarded for all the hard work we were doing."
The Crimson's hard work paid off even before the second period began, as they were able to get one past Spartans' goaltender Jeff Lerg just 1:01 after MSU's second goal.
Harvard outshot Michigan State, 14-8, in the first period.
Harvard was able to tie the game with a power-play tally of its own 8:19 into the second period when Ryan Maki (Shelby Township) knocked a rebound past Lerg from in front of the goal.
But from there, things slowly started going south for the Crimson.
Not long after the goal, Harvard defenseman David MacDonald caught Michigan State captain Chris Lawrence on the boards from behind and was assessed a five-minute major for hitting from behind and a game misconduct. Lawrence was slow to get up and upon removing his helmet, had blood coming from his forehead.
Michigan State was able to grind away at the Crimson before Chris Mueller made a great play and banked the puck in off Tobe from the side of the goal to give the Spartans a 3-2 lead.
"We took an unfortunate five-minute penalty, did a good job of killing it and, I'm not sure who exactly the goal-scorer was, but it was a heck of a pickup off his backhand and it was a very skilled play," added Donato.
Despite the stunning difference on the shot chart (Harvard outshot MSU 47-25 for the game), the third period was all Spartans, as the Crimson were never able to get close after MSU made it 4-2 early in the period on a goal by Daniel Sturges. Bryan Lerg added an empty-netter for good measure for the final margin.
Lerg made a career-high 45 saves for the Spartans (10-7-1), while Tobe, a former Spartan, made 20 saves for Harvard (4-10-0).
Michigan State now advances to the GLI's championship game Saturday night at 7:35, while Harvard will look for a third-place finish at 4 p.m. against the Michigan-Michigan Tech loser.