Michigan's Jekyll and Hyde personality reared its head again Saturday night in East Lansing as the Wolverines fell 4-3 to the rival Spartans after leading 3-1 after one period of play. With the loss, U-M again tumbled in the Pairwise Rankings (to 14th) and set up a must-win weekend with Minnesota to close out the regular season.
The Maize and Blue had a chance to sweep the Green and White after winning 7-1 in Yost Friday, but Michigan squandered countless chances to add to their lead, failing to score on 24 shots in the second and third periods.
Meanwhile, just as sophomore goalie Steve Racine, making his third straight start, seemed poised to lock up the No. 1 job, he allowed two bad goals in the third period as MSU rallied from a 3-2 deficit to its one-goal victory.
"We knew they would bounce back," head coach Red Berenson said. "We get a 3-1 lead, can't kill a penalty, give up that [third] goal and now it's a new game in the third period and it comes down to whoever wants it the most. They got the jump on us and it's as simple as that.
"Tonight, you give the other team credit but we gave away that game. You have the lead in the third period that's your game to win or to lose."
This one started perfectly for the Wolverines, with senior forward Luke Moffatt scoring 1:15 into the first period and sophomore Boo Nieves making it 2-0 at 4:43 on a nifty individual play in which he dipped his way through a pair of defenders before faking and going backhand past MSU goalie Jake Hildebrand.
After State closed within one, junior Phil Di Giuseppe re-extended the lead to two, 3-1, with his 11th marker this season at 17:23 of the first.
MSU switched goalies at the break, and Willie Yanakeff seemed to give the Spartans some jump. Still, the Wolverines had ample opportunity to push the lead to three or back to two when Michigan State clawed back.
In the third, State tied the score just 6:34 in after Racine allowed a rebound to squirt five or six feet away from him and right onto the stick of Michael Ferrantino, who buried it five-hole. A little more than a minute later, Mackenzie MacEachern also went five-hole on Racine to stake State to a lead and put Michigan in a hole it hadn't been in all weekend.
"That's a tough loss for us, especially when it's in our grasp, to give it away like that," said Moffatt.
MSU entered play 9-16-7 and was 0-3 in its last four and 1-6-4 in its last 11. Michigan thought it had finally hit its stride, waxing the Spartans Friday in a dominating performance that may have been U-M's best game all season. And they were flying after one period Saturday, but the Wolverines simply cannot put it together for an entire weekend, watching their offense sputter, their defense turn the puck over unforced and goalie play break down when the Maize and Blue again looked to their netminder for help but found none.
Michigan now finds itself in a situation where a split against Minnesota next weekend is an absolute must. If U-M is swept, like it was in Minneapolis a month ago, the Wolverines would likely have to win the Big Ten Tournament March 20-22 to make the NCAA Tournament.
"That would have been a big win for us with the Big Ten standings and the national tournament rankings," Moffatt acknowledged. "Dropping that one is tough for us and we've got to have a big weekend next week against Minnesota."