By John Lachmann
It had been nearly three years since Miami had won a playoff game in overtime.
But on Friday, sophomore forward Riley Barber recorded the winning goal in OT in Game 1 of the RedHawks’ first-round NCHC series as Miami edged No. 4 St. Cloud State, 5-4 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center on Friday.
Barber poked a puck past goalie Charlie Lindgren with 9:50 left in the first overtime period to win it.
The best-of-3 series will continue on Saturday at 8:07 p.m. If necessary, the rubber game would be at 8:07 p.m. on Sunday.
Miami (13-19-3) never trailed and led by one goal four times.
RedHawks sophomore forward Kevin Morris opened the scoring one a one-timer from junior forward Alex Wideman just 2:40 into the first period.
The Huskies’ Tim Daly tied it after being left alone on the right side of the net. Jimmy Murray fed him a pass, which he buried with 11:31 left in the first period.
Miami sophomore defenseman Chris Joyaux netted his first career goal on a shorthanded shot that beat goalie Ryan Faragher with 15:53 remaining in the middle stanza.
The RedHawks held that lead until the opening shift of the third period, when Kevin Gravel wired a shot home, tying the score at two just 31 seconds into the final frame.
Miami junior forward Cody Murphy made it 3-2 when he ripped in a one-timer on the power play off a pass from junior center Austin Czarnik with 13:11 remaining.
St. Cloud State tied it again on Nic Dowd’s 20th goal of the season, taking a pass from Murray and ripping a one-timer past Miami sophomore goalie Ryan McKay with 9:21 to play.
But RedHawks sophomore forward Sean Kuraly followed his own shot and backhanded one into the back of the net just 27 seconds later to put Miami back on top, 4-3.
The RedHawks stayed on top by one goal until the closing seconds, when a pass from along the boards by Dowd deflected to Gravel, who buried a wrister with 0.1 seconds left in regulation.
Although the Huskies dictated play in overtime, Barber was able to knock home a rebound off a shot by Kuraly in traffic with 9:50 left in the first extra session to win it.
Despite its struggles, Miami is 3-2 vs. No. 4 St. Cloud State this season, and is 2-1 on the Huskies’ home ice.
Barber and Kuraly both finished with a goal and two assists.
Game 2 of the series will be played at 8:07 p.m. EST on Saturday. If necessary, the series finale will be at 8:07 p.m. on Sunday.
ANALYSIS: Miami looked like the team that was ranked No. 2 in the preseason last Saturday, and played to its potential again on Friday.
When the book is written on this team, years after the completion of this season, the lingering question will always be ‘what happened?’
But here in the present, the RedHawks are playing their best hockey since before the first snow and are now one game away from advancing to the NCHC championships next weekend after upsetting the fourth-best team in the country in its home rink.
Because of the potential of playing three games in three days, Miami coach Enrico Blasi rolled his four lines more than usual, and each line played well. Morris, who has been MIA this season, logged one of his best games of the season.
The fourth line of Morris, sophomore John Doherty and junior Alex Wideman was arguably the RedHawks’ best. Kuraly and sophomore forward Alex Gacek also stood out.
That said about Gacek, why in the world is he killing the penalty with nine seconds left in regulation? Your best players should be on the ice at that point, and Gacek is not one of the team’s top two PK forwards.
The centering pass that tied the game shot right around him for a slam-dunk goal. It’s just amazing that an exceptional coach struggles with personnel decisions in the most critical times.
Anyway…Miami has had bad seasons before. It happens to the best teams. Most sane people understand this.
What has been so difficult to stomach during this campaign is that the talent is there. It was obvious in October.
Despite this miserably underwhelming season, the RedHawks have a chance to advance to the NCHC championships with another win in the next two nights.
It’s still an uphill battle to win this round, much less extend its NCAA Tournament streak to nine years, but it’s a fight Miami appears ready to tackle at this point.
FORWARDS: A-. Many things have gone against Miami this season, including the Hockey Gods. A potential empty netter was cleared inches away from the goal line in this game, for example.
But Morris and Murphy’s goals were on great shots and Kuraly and Barber scored because they drove the net hard.
None of the lines were overused, partly because Blasi knows of the possibility of the three-game weekend, and all of them played well. The reality is: Miami has 14 good forwards and playing lower lines more is not a major hindrance with this roster.
DEFENSE: C-. This grade was in the B+ range the first two periods, but the numerous point-blank shots St. Cloud State relegated it
Miami did a good job shutting down this potent team early, but there were too many blown assignments overall, which has been an ongoing problem.
Sophomore Michael Mooney is in the lineup because of injuries and he’s working hard, but he was a liability on the blue line again. Freshman Matt Joyaux has struggled down the stretch as well and got beat badly a couple of times on Friday.
GOALTENDING: C. This is the toughest area to grade. McKay doesn’t look anywhere near as collected as he did last season or in Green Bay. He’s facing way more high-quality shots than he has in past years.
But what’s concerning is he was so technically sound as a freshman, always in control, and now he looks frazzled. He’s out of position a lot and looked behind him after saves multiple times on Friday.
Obviously Miami fans were spoiled last season, and also McKay didn’t face the high-quality shots he’s seeing this season, but goalies go through phases and there’s no reason to believe based on McKay’s history he won’t revert to invincible mode at some point.
LINEUP CHANGES: The only move by Blasi was taking senior forward Bryon Paulazzo out and replacing him with junior Alex Wideman.
Wideman had not scored in 15 games and had just three assists in that span. Paulazzo had not scored in 10 straight games.
With a potential three-in-three, it will be interesting to see if Blasi comes back with McKay on Saturday. He played 70:10 and stopped 29 of 33 shots and has not been great playing consecutive nights.