I knew the series in Fairbanks and Sault Ste. Marie would go to three games. I was wrong, however, about who would advance from those series.
Last week: 4-4-0 (.500)
Season to date: 122-90-29 (.566)
This is the second round of the CCHA playoffs. The winners from these four series advance to Joe Louis Arena March 23-24 to play for the Mason Cup. Just as in last week’s first round, all four series are best-of-three series at single sites. All series are Friday-Saturday with Sunday as necessary. There are no shootouts; teams play until someone wins. All games begin at 7:05 p.m. EDT except for Friday’s Michigan-Western Michigan game (6:35 p.m.) and Friday’s Bowling Green-Notre Dame game (7:35 p.m.).
After this round, teams will be re-seeded as necessary for the championship tournament in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. The numbers before a team’s name indicate its finish in the final CCHA standings this season.
No. 11 Michigan State at No. 1 Miami
To earn the right to play the regular-season champion Miami RedHawks, Michigan State won its first-round CCHA playoff series on the road against Alaska. The Spartans won the first game, 2-1, in front of junior Will Yanakeff’s 34-save performance. Saturday’s game went to Alaska, 4-1, and MSU took the deciding game Sunday, 4-3, with freshman Jake Hildebrand in net. It was the first playoff series win for the Spartans since 2007, the year Michigan State won the national championship.
The RedHawks, who had a first-round bye last week, captured the regular-season title in the last game of the season with a 4-2 home win over Ohio State. Miami was 7-3-0 in its last 10 games of the season. In November, the RedHawks tied and defeated the Spartans at home, and Miami is 6-0-1 in its last seven games versus Michigan State, dating back to the 2010-11 season.
Taking nothing away from the improved Spartans, the tough Miami defense — in front of the even tougher goaltending tandem of Ryan McKay and Jay Williams — should make this a two-game sweep. Miami 2-1, 3-2
No. 9 Bowling Green at No. 2 Notre Dame
Like the Spartans, the Falcons had to play their way to the second round on the road. After losing their first game to Lake Superior State in Sault Ste. Marie last weekend, 2-0, the Falcons demolished the Lakers with a 6-3 win Saturday and 7-0 romp Sunday. At the end of the 2011-12 season, as the No. 11 seed, Bowling Green won its first-round CCHA playoff series against Northern Michigan before beating top-seeded Ferris State in three games in the CCHA quarterfinals.
With their second-place finish, the Fighting Irish had a first-round bye last week. Notre Dame was 5-2-3 in its last 10 games and the Irish are 3-0-2 in their last five contests, with the last two wins coming at home against Bowling Green March 1-2, a set in which ND outscored BGSU 8-4. Notre Dame is 14-1-1 at home against Bowling Green since 2005-06.
I know I’m calling against the unconventional odds here by picking the Irish in three, given Bowling Green’s current three-series CCHA playoff streak dating back to that upset in Marquette in last year’s first round. All three games are televised by Comcast. Bowling Green 3-1, Notre Dame 3-2, Notre Dame 4-2
No. 7 Michigan at No. 3 Western Michigan
Last weekend, Michigan swept Northern Michigan in two games in the first round of CCHA playoff action, and the sweep was the first home sweep of the season for the Wolverines. That wasn’t the only unusual thing about the weekend; the Wolverines narrowly survived Friday’s 3-2 game before completely handling the Wildcats in Saturday’s 6-2 win. In Saturday’s game, Michigan played like the team most people expected the Wolverines to be this season rather than the seventh-place team that they became.
Before last week’s bye, Western Michigan was 3-3-4 in its last 10 contests of the season, most recently splitting a road series with Michigan State, a 5-2 win and 1-0 loss. WMU was 3-1-0 against UM during the 2012-13 regular season, outscoring UM 12-6 in those contests.
I know that my picks will upset the touchier types among Western Michigan fans, and the only logic to them is Michigan’s 5-0-1 current unbeaten streak along with last Saturday’s game against the Wildcats. Those specific Wolverines are on a mission and I’m not picking against them until they lose. Of course, the Wolverines from earlier in the season may be the ones who play in Kalamazoo this weekend, which would mean two fairly easy wins for Western. A third possibility is that last weekend’s Wolverines show up and the very good Broncos beat them anyway. FOX Sports Detroit is carrying Friday’s game. Michigan 3-2, 4-2
No. 5 Ferris State at No. 4 Ohio State
Each of these teams earned a first-round bye, with the host of this series determined on the last night of regular-season play. Each team finished the season with 13 conference wins, but Ohio State came out two points ahead of Ferris State by virtue of the Buckeyes’ split with Miami the last weekend of the season.
FSU went 3-5-2 in its last 10 games, taking one point from Michigan in Ann Arbor the last weekend of the regular season with a 4-1 loss and 1-1 tie. OSU went 4-4-2 in its last 10 games, splitting with Miami on the road the last weekend of the regular season, a 3-0 win and 4-2 loss.
Ohio State is 7-4-2 all-time against Ferris State in the CCHA Tournament, but the teams haven’t met in postseason since 2005-06, a sweep by the Bulldogs in Ewigleben Arena. The teams split a pair of 3-1 games Big Rapids Jan. 11-12, with FSU taking the first game.
This series will be played in the little OSU Ice Rink because a paying customer of greater importance has booked the Schottenstein Center. (Seriously, the Buckeyes need a hockey-only arena. Seriously.) The games are not televised but will be streamed live here for free. These teams are evenly matched. Ferris State 3-1, Ohio State 3-1, Ohio State 3-2