By John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – The second period was kind to Miami on Friday, and on Saturday the RedHawks also inflicted the most damage in the middle stanza.
No. 11 Miami beat No. 15 Michigan State, 4-1 in Game 2 of a CCHA quarterfinal on Saturday, sweeping the Spartans and earning a trip to conference championship weekend in Detroit.
The RedHawks (23-3-2) will play either Ferris State if it wins its series against Bowling Green or Western Michigan if the Falcons take that series. The semifinal will be on Friday, March 16, and the third-place and championship games will be on Saturday.
The win was Miami’s eighth straight.
Freshman forward Jimmy Mullin slipped a pass through to junior forward Reilly Smith, and Smith was able to backhand the puck into the net six minutes into the first period to give Miami the early lead.
Michigan State (19-15-4) evened the score with 7:56 remaining in the opening frame on a Torey Krug power play blast from the blue line after his initial shot was blocked but kicked right back to him.
Midway through the second period, senior defenseman Chris Wideman fired a shot from just inside the blue line that hit a Michigan State defender and found the net to make it 2-1 Miami.
RedHawks senior forward Matt Tomassoni took a penalty 34 seconds later, but after Miami killed the penalty, Smith hit Tomassoni with a pass as he came out of the box, and Tomassoni went in for a breakaway goal to extend the lead to two.
Less than a minute late, a shot by sophomore forward Bryon Paulazzo was saved by goalie Drew Palmisano, but the rebound came to senior forward Alden Hirschfeld, who roofed it to seal the game.
Miami’s defense shut down the Spartans’ offense the remainder of the game, holding them to seven third-period shots.
The RedHawks outshot Michigan State, 42-22, and senior goalie Connor Knapp stopped 21 shots to earn his seventh straight victory.
Knapp has not allowed more than one goal in any game in that span, posting a 0.43 goals-against average and a .977 save percentage. He has not surrendered an even-strength goal in 426:16.
Smith finished with a goal and two assists for a team-best three points, and Wideman added a goal for the second straight game, and he picked up a helper.
ANALYSIS: Talk about dominance.
Miami outscored Michigan State, 10-1 in the series and netted seven goals in the second period of the games.
Like Friday, Miami got a great effort from the top line and the other lines also contributed offensively. The defense was again very solid, and Knapp’s run in net has been nothing short of amazing.
Also like in Game 1, Michigan State had its best scoring chances early and Miami’s defense played better as the game continued.
The RedHawks’ power play was exceptionally strong, generating 17 shots on seven chances, and the top unit scored a pair of goals.
With Miami playing at this level, no one wants to draw the RedHawks right now, including Ferris State, Miami’s likely opponent on Friday.
The three-goal knockout blow came over the span of 3:22, and it was surprising Michigan State never called a timeout, since the Spartans were clearly stunned by the outburst.
What’s amazing is not just the eight-game winning streak but Miami’s margin of victory. The RedHawks have won all of their last seven games by at least three goals, and are outscoring opponents, 32-5.
FORWARDS: A-. They accounted for 29 shots, three goals and six assists.
On the JAR line, it was Mullin who had the hottest hand on Friday, and on Saturday it was Smith. Which means Miami’s opponent next Friday had better watch out for freshman Austin Czarnik.
Freshman Blake Coleman went to the locker room early in the first period, providing a scare for Miami fans, but he returned in the second frame.
Junior Curtis McKenzie did not record a point but he still had a very strong series after a frustrating second half of the regular season.
DEFENSEMEN: A. Another very strong effort by the D-corps, and Wideman scored for the second straight game, finishing with four points on the weekend.
Senior Cameron Schilling hasn’t been mentioned much recently, but he’s very solid in his own end and blocked three shots tonight, although he did take the only penalty by a Maimi blueliner. Junior Stephen Spinell played his typical gritty game and led the team with four blocks.
GOALTENDING: A. The shot that went in was a blast and it looked like Knapp was screened.
Knapp didn’t have to make many tough saves, but his positioning was excellent and he controlled his rebounds.
Knapp is now comfortably leading the NCAA in goals-against average at 1.43, and his save percentage of .943 is second in college hockey only to Niagara’s Chris Noonan.
LINEUP CHANGES: As expected, Paulazzo was in the lineup in place of freshman Alex Wideman. Miami coach Enrico Blasi has now rotated the pair back-to-back weekends.
On defense, it was freshman Ben Paulides again occupying the sixth spot. His playing time was curtailed because