By John Lachmann
OXFORD, Ohio – As horribly as Game 2 started for No. 3 Miami, the final 59 minutes more than made up for the opening minute.
The RedHawks (23-10-5) scored four unanswered goals to overcome a Michigan State tally 28 seconds in for a 4-1 win in the quarterfinal round of the CCHA Tournament at Cady Arena on Saturday.
The best-of-3 series is now tied at a game apiece.
Matt DeBlouw ripped home a one-timer to give the Spartans (14-24-3) the early lead after Miami senior defenseman Steven Spinell was called for elbowing at the 10-second mark.
But RedHawks sophomore forward Jimmy Mullin tipped a shot by freshman defenseman Matthew Caito, which bounced over the pad of MSU goalie Jake Hildebrand midway through the opening frame, tying the score.
Just 2:23 later, Miami sophomore forward Austin Czarnik took a feed from freshman forward Riley Barber from behind the Michigan State shorthanded. On his backhand, Czarnik was able to skate around Hildebrand and knock the puck into the net to make it 2-1.
With 7:49 remaining in the middle frame, RedHawks sophomore forward Cody Murphy carried the puck into the zone and fired a shot through a screen and Hildebrand's legs to give Miami a two-goal lead.
Czarnik took a feed from Barber from along the wall, skated in and again was able to score on a backhander, this time by roofing it with 10:03 left in regulation.
RedHawks freshman goalie Ryan McKay made arguably the save of the series with five minutes to play when he extended his left pad to deny an MSU wrap-around shot. After allowing the Spartans' goal on the first shot he faced, McKay stopped the final 16 shots to earn the win.
Czarnik snapped a 10-game streak without a goal and his two-goal game was his fourth this season and the fifth in his career. He netted his fourth shorthanded tally of the season, giving him the NCAA lead outright.
Murphy finished with a goal and an assist, his fourth multi-point game of the season, and Barber and Caito dished for a pair of helpers each. Barber has six goals and six assists in his last 11 games, and Caito has notched five points in five games.
The rubber game of the series will be at 7:05 p.m. on Sunday at Cady Arena. If the RedHawks win, they would face Michigan next Saturday at Joe Louis Arena in a CCHA semifinal.
The seventh-seeded Wolverines swept Western Michigan in Kalamazoo this weekend.
ANALYSIS: This series looks very familiar…probably because it's the same one Miami played two weeks ago against Ohio State.
The RedHawks, heavily favored, were flat on Friday and came to play on Saturday. The difference, of course, is this series isn't over.
Michigan State deserves credit for its compete level this weekend. The Spartans have traveled about 8,000 miles already in this tournament vs. zero for Miami, and MSU will play its sixth game in 10 days on Sunday.
Miami admitted that it wanted to send a message at the start of this game, which hurt the RedHawks in the short term but reaped major dividends overall.
Like Friday, the Spartans had a wide-open player ready to slam home the first goal. And Miami lost the faceoff to allow MSU to set up, a far-too-common theme this season.
But whether it was the Spinell penalty, the goal or both, the RedHawks played with intensity the remainder of the game.
All four goals were a delight to watch.
Few players have the skill to tip in a shot on purpose the way Mullin did in the first period.
The Barber-Czarnik duo loves to create havoc for teams trying to set up the power play behind their own nets, and they capitalized on the turnover Barber forced.
Murphy has the ability to generate a lot of mustard on his shot with a very short wind-up, and that's how he was able to get his wrister through for Goal No. 3.
Murphy nearly scored earlier in the second period when he fired high on Hildebrand, but the MSU goalie made the save on that shot, albeit uncomfortably.
Czarnik's second goal was a thing of beauty, and it seemed like his confidence grew after the first goal and he had an extra step the rest of the game.
It's now a best-of-1 series, and with the teams going their separate ways after this season, there's no doubt each has extra incentive to eliminate the other from this tournament.
Miami coach Enrico Blasi juggled the lines with sophomore forward Blake Coleman out for the first time this season, and Murphy moved into Coleman's spot on the line with junior Max Cook and Mullin.
That line and the Czarnik-Barber-sophomore Alex Wideman line were the best two, and it will be interesting to see if Murphy stays on that line even if Coleman returns, since they generated two of Miami's four goals (although Murphy's goal was technically scored during a line change).
And hey, with the rubber game on St. Patrick's Day, how do you not like keep the combination of Murphy and Mullin together?
FORWARDS: A-. Four entertaining goals a night after being shut out. They only accounted for 23 of Miami's 37 shots, a rare split on a team that rarely has defensemen jump into the play at even strength.
The Coleman-induced line tweaking worked well, and the MMM (Murphy-Mullin-Max) line logged a lot of ice time in the final 40 minutes, even late although they're not one of the top shut down lines.
DEFENSEMEN: A. Seventeen shots allowed, Caito's shot resulted in the Mullin tip-in and senior Joe Hartman also picked up an assist, an unrelated but well-deserved byproduct of a very solid defensive weekend.
Freshman Taylor Richart played one of his better defensive games of the season. Caito was much stronger in this game than on Friday overall.
Spinell was also improved although he took two minor penalties.
GOALTENDING: A. There's not much a goalie can do when a player takes a cross-ice one-time feed and there's no one there to defend him, so McKay is certainly not to blame for that marker.
McKay stopped 16-of-17 shots (.941), made all of the routine saves, controlled his rebounds and stopped that key wrap-around in the third period.
LINEUP CHANGES: A day after wondering if this section would be necessary the remainder of the season, Coleman goes out with a minor lower-body injury.
It's unclear whether he'll be available on Sunday. Blasi said after he game that Coleman was "not 100 percent" (actually Blasi still speaks Canadian so be probably said "not 100 per cent"), but that he's "not hurt", explaining that there's a difference.
Junior Bryon Paulazzo played well in his place, his first action since Jan. 26 when he replaced then-suspended senior Curtis McKenzie.
It looks like McKay will play three games in three days this weekend. He's had to move around a lot this weekend, so we'll see how long Blasi's leash is in a must-win game – at least in terms of the CCHA Tournament.