ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Sometimes you get one of those Christmas gifts that just keeps on giving.
St. Cloud State got one this year with the return of Derek Eastman to the defensive corps, and even though it’s nearly three weeks after the holiday, that gift is one that was never meant to be returned.
Since his insertion into the lineup the Huskies have lost only once in five games, and on Friday night at the National Hockey Center, his two power-play goals were the difference as St. Cloud State muscled out a 2-1 win over Providence before an announced crowd of 6,226.
Both goals came on slapshots that made their way past a screened Bobby Goepfert, while on the other end of the rink, Jake Moreland, who was playing with a cold, had the luxury of seeing most of the 39 shots he faced, and the only one that did elude him deflected off of a defender’s stick.
“That might have been the difference tonight and we talked about it in practice this week,” said Providence head coach Paul Pooley. “We’re getting guys around the net, but are we taking away the goalies’ eyes? Both their goals came on screens.”
The Friars controlled most of the first period, putting eight shots on the Moreland before St. Cloud State could register one, and finished the period with a 12-8 advantage in shots, but they couldn’t score.
Luke Irwin went off for interference just :25 into the second period and the Huskies took advantage as Eastman ripped a one-timer over Goepfert’s right shoulder.
Devin Rask tied the game for Providence when he sent a shot from the right circle into the crease that went off Husky defensemen Tim Conboy’s stick, but in the final minute of the period Eastman got his second, on a blast from the left the point that found its way through a maze of bodies and into the net.
“That’s how we are going to score goals,” said Eastman, whose last-second shot for the hat trick went over an empty Providence net just before time expired. “The guys are working their butts off down low and getting the puck up top and then getting in front of the goalie for those screens.”
Eastman ran the point on the Huskies’ second power-play unit, a group that was almost never heard from through the first half of the season, and was also on the ice for a majority of the penalty kills, of which there were eight — including a 5-on-3 that lasted well over a minute.
“Special teams were big and we did a good job of killing off penalties,” said St. Cloud State head coach Craig Dahl. “But what I was most happy with was that we had another third period like we had in Denver, where we really didn’t allow them to take the play to us. We did a real good job of limiting them from opportunities, and most of those came from outside.”
Providence had one good chance in the third after T.J. McElroy went off for tripping with 3:12 to play. Pooley pulled Goepfert for an extra attacker to give his team a 6-on-4 advantage, but the Husky penalty kill wouldn’t allow the Friars to set up for long and when they did, Moreland stood his ground.
“We played really smart tonight; this might have been our smartest played game of the year,” said Moreland, who combined with his career-best 41 save performance last Saturday in Denver has now turned away 79 shots in his last two games. “Besides the penalties, guys were staying in their spots, forechecking and backchecking like we are supposed to and picking up guys that were open all over the place. They did a really good job tonight and it makes my job a little easier.”
The win puts the Huskies two games over .500 for the first time since early November, and coupled with last Saturday’s win in Denver, they have two straight wins for the first time since late in the same month. A win Saturday would give them three straight, a feat not accomplished since last February.
Game time is slated for 7:05 p.m. Central.