By John Lachmann
Miami freshman Ryan McKay stopped 44 shots as the RedHawks moved a step closer to clinching the final CCHA regular season title.
Freshman forward Riley Barber and freshman defenseman Matthew Caito both found the net for the second straight night as Miami swept away Lake Superior State, 2-1 at Taffy Abel Arena in Sault Saint Marie, Mich., on Saturday.
The RedHawks completed their road schedule by winning their last three games, and finished 16-6-4 on hostile ice.
Barber continued his hot second half by knocking home a rebound shot on the power play just under nine minutes into the game. It was the fifth time this season Barber has scored the first goal of the game and his fifth marker in his last seven games.
LSSU’s Dan Radke also netted a rebound shot goal eight minutes into the second period, tying the score.
But Caito hammered home a feed from sophomore forward Austin Czarnik two minutes later to put the RedHawks ahead for good.
Miami gave up 45 shots on goal, a season high, after the RedHawks equaled a season best with 51 shots on net on Friday.
The win gives Miami 56 points in CCHA play.
Notre Dame tied Western Michigan and won the shootout, so the RedHawks extended their lead in the conference to five points over the Broncos and six over the Fighting Irish.
Miami owns the tiebreaker vs. Western Michigan on head-to-head goal differential, so the RedHawks need just one point to clinch the top seed in the conference tournament and two points to wrap up the CCHA regular season title outright.
Miami wraps up regular season play with a series vs. Ohio State on March 1-2 at 7:35 p.m. and 7:05 p.m., respectively at Cady Arena.
ANALYSIS: RedHawks coach Enrico Blasi said about a month ago that blowouts at this stage would be rare and Miami will need to win a lot of close games.
Enter this weekend. Miami had to score three go-ahead goals on Friday before holding on for the win, and the RedHawks had to shut down the Lakers for 30 minutes with a one-goal lead on Saturday.
Barber has 12 points in his last 13 games, slowing only slightly since his return from the World Juniors, and Caito has 11 points in that span.
McKay, who entered play with a .960 save percentage, managed to raise that number to .962 while maintaining his 1.06 goals-against average.
By the way, all of the key players from Saturday – Barber, Caito and McKay – are freshmen, although really in name only at this point.
We’ll forgo positional grades for this game, because the author was unable to watch the game live, on tee vee or the computer, or even or listen to it live.
Although it’s safe to say McKay is deserving of an ‘A’ for his career-high 44-save performance.
LINEUP CHANGES: It was the fifth straight game for this 18-skater unit, although forward Steve Mason will probably get into the lineup next weekend for senior night.
We’ll see if Blasi comes back with McKay next Friday after such a dominant performance in this game.