In what was most likely their final matchup at Joe Louis Arena, Michigan and Michigan State put on a show Friday night.
The underdog Spartans jumped out to an early lead with a lightning-quick goal just 36 seconds into the game on a top-shelf snipe from freshman forward Taro Hirose which beat Michigan freshman goaltender Hayden Lavigne.
Less than six minutes later, while on a 5-on-3 power play, Michigan State struck again when freshman forward Sam Saliba took a perfect pass from sophomore forward Mason Appleton right on the doorstep and easily scored, giving the Spartans a 2-0 lead.
But the battle-tested Wolverines would fight back.
At 14:54, freshman forward Jake Slaker, who leads the Wolverines in points, flung the puck at Michigan State junior goaltender Ed Minney from behind the net. The puck bounced off Minney's left leg and trickled into the net, bringing the score to 2-1.
Michigan captured the momentum with 28 seconds left in the first period when senior forward Max Shuart jammed away at a loose puck in front of the net that, again, barely squeaked in, tying the game at 2-2 going into the first intermission.
"The outcome of the first period was disappointing," said Michigan State coach Tom Anastos. "Goals can't go in that easy, and that took some emotion out of our team, The second one took energy from us and we struggled in the second period. Michigan played a solid defensive game and that made it difficult for us.
Minney was pulled by Anastos to start the second period in favor of freshman John Lethemon.
After a hard-hitting first period, things got even more chippy in the second as players had to be separated by referees on several occasions.
Michigan went on its first power play at 6:35 of the second when Michigan State freshman forward Pat Khodorenko went to the penalty box for hooking. But the Wolverines were unable to capitalize on the man advantage.
And after returning to full strength, MSU regained the lead when senior forward Chris Knudson gathered a loose puck in front of Michigan's net and slipped the puck below Lavigne's pad.
Michigan earned another power play at 14:10 when MSU senior forward Villiam Haag was assessed an interference penalty, and it looked like the Wolverines quickly took advantage.
Seconds into the power play, junior forward Dexter Dancs deflected a slap shot from the point, re-directing it into the net, but the play was reviewed and the referees determined the goal was no good because of a high stick, much to the chagrin of the Michigan faithful at The Joe.
Michigan, however, did manage to capitalize with five seconds remaining on the power play when senior captain Nolan De Jong ripped a shot past Lethemon with 3:55 left in the second period to even the score at 3-3, giving Michigan renewed confidence once again going into the third.
And just 2:40 into the third period, De Jong struck again, giving the Wolverines their first lead when he took a pass from sophomore defenseman Joseph Cecconi and ripped a wrist shot that beat Lethemon top shelf. De Jong, who had two goals in his first 111 career games, earned his first multi-goal game of his career.
"Good for Nolan," Michigan head coach Red Berenson said about the 2013 Minnesota Wild seventh-round draft pick. "I thought our forwards did a good job getting the puck back to the D. It's hard getting pucks through traffic, and Nolan got a couple through, and he put them in the net. That's important."
But the Spartans would answer back.
With 4:58 left in regulation, Saliba took a tape-to-tape centering pass from Haag, right on the doorstep, and found the back of the net to tie the game once again with his second goal of the night.
After Michigan State iced the puck with 7.4 seconds left, Michigan won an offensive-zone faceoff and threw a last-ditch effort at the net. But the last-second rush was unsuccessful, sending the game into overtime for the fourth time in the rivalry's last six meetings, and for the third consecutive time at Joe Louis Arena.
Both teams had chances throughout the five-minute overtime period, but neither team was able to find the back of the net, officially ending the game in a 4-4 tie.
But there was another point in the Big Ten standings, a unique trophy and a lifetime of bragging rights still on the line with the shootout looming.
And fittingly, the shootout was even extended as the Spartans and Wolverines were still tied after four rounds.
In the fifth round, however, Michigan junior defenseman Sam Piazza scored and Michigan State freshman forward Logan Lambdin's shot sailed wide, bringing the Wolverines happily off their bench to celebrate at center ice and accept the Iron D Trophy.
"It was a big game for both teams. The crowd was great. It was a great event for the players, a good experience for our young players," Berenson said. "The great thing about playing at Joe Louis is you get an opportunity for both schools to come to the game and support their team. It's a great environment."
Despite the loss, Anastos said he enjoyed the atmosphere of playing against Michigan one last time at Joe Louis Arena.
"The atmosphere was great. People were jamming pretty good during the shootout,'' Anastos said. "There were some exciting plays for both teams down the stretch. That was a pretty entertaining college hockey game for the fans.''
Michigan's record moved to 9-13-3 (2-7-2 Big Ten) while Michigan State is now 5-17-3 (1-8-2 Big Ten).
"I think we competed really hard. We saw some adversity there but we worked through it," De Jong said. "To get the extra point is important. We didn't get too low after that goal with five minutes left and we bounced back. A win against Michigan State always feels really, really good."
Michigan won't have much time to revel in its Duel in the D crown, though, as the Wolverines and Spartans meet again Saturday at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor.
Paying Tribute to Mr. Ilitch:
Before the game, the crowd at Joe Louis Arena observed a moment of silence to mourn the death of Mike Ilitch.
Ilitch, who was the owner of the Detroit Red Wings and Tigers, founder of Little Caesars Pizza, chairman of Ilitch Holdings, Inc., and a champion for the city of Detroit, died Friday afternoon at age 87.
After the game, Berenson reflected on his relationship with Ilitch.
"I feel terrible about Mike Ilitch," Berenson said. "I interviewed for the Red Wings job years ago and I spent the day with Mike Ilitch and his family. What a first-class group they were. And we always had a friendship after that. And he had family that went to Michigan, and he would call me from time to time to talk about hockey or talk about Michigan. What a great person, what a great resume. You can't say enough about him and his family.
"The Ilitches were the ones that were supportive of the GLI and obviously the Michigan/Michigan State series (at Joe Louis Arena) whether it drew well or not. It wasn't a money maker. It was doing the right thing for college hockey. Mike Ilitch and Marian were so good for college hockey in Detroit."