The Miami RedHawks made short work of the visiting Michigan State Spartans, downing them by a 4-1 final Saturday night, sweeping their CCHA quarterfinal series.
Miami junior forward Reilly Smith had a three-point game to help punch the RedHawks’ ticket to Joe Louis Arena for a third consecutive season.
The opening period saw both teams get a power-play goal from their CCHA First Team honorees. The RedHawks got on the board first at 5:58, when Smith beat Spartan senior netminder Drew Palmisano at the post. Smith and freshman Jimmy Mullin had traded the puck back and forth as they barreled down on the cage, with Smith taking the final touch.
Smith feels the RedHawk offense is clicking on all levels now after spending the beginning of the season integrating its freshmen.
“The chemistry now is just phenomenal,” he said. “All lines are firing right now, other teams can’t really single down on one line. We have a really balanced attack right now and it seems to be working very well.”
Michigan State got an equalizer at 12:04 from junior defenseman Torey Krug. The MSU captain lined up a shot from the center of the blue line that was blocked by RedHawk senior forward Patrick Tiesling, but the puck jumped right back to Krug’s stick, who reloaded and fired again, this time beating Miami senior goaltender Connor Knapp’s glove hand.
Miami scored a flurry of goals in the second period for the second night in a row to take control of the game. The goal that put the RedHawks back in front was another power-play score, this one by senior defenseman Chris Wideman at 9:49. The puck crossed the ice twice off the sticks of freshman Austin Czarnik and Smith before Wideman fired it by Palmisano from the middle of the blue line.
At 12:30 in the period, the RedHawks tallied another goal that head coach Enrico Blasi saw as a game-changer.
Senior forward Matt Tomassoni stepped out of the penalty box and took a long-ice lob from Smith, carried it into the offensive zone alone and beat Palmisano head-on for a two-goal cushion.
“The difference in the game was Reilly hoisting one in the air and landing on Tomassoni’s stick in the neutral zone,” said Blasi. “You gotta have little bit of luck for that. It really put a dagger in them.”
Michigan State coach Tom Anastos thought the exact same of the play.
“That alley-oop pass that comes as the guy comes out of the box and scores a goal,” he said. “They took advantage and built a little momentum off that.”
Just 41 seconds after Tomassoni’s score, another senior RedHawk forward, Alden Hirschfeld, added an insurance goal on a wrister in the slot for the game’s final tally.
After a scoreless third period, the RedHawks were able to sit back and know they won’t have to play on Sunday. Smith said the team was determined to close out the series in two games and not have to deal with the pressure of a game three.
“If you let it go to a final game on Sunday, anything can happen,” said Smith. “Bounces can go either way. We really wanted to try focus on trying to finish tonight.”
Despite the loss, Anastos saw a different sort of game than he did from the Spartans in Friday’s 6-0 defeat.
“I really thought we played hard,” Anastos said. “In fact, I feel good about the effort in terms of how hard the guys played and how hard they competed. Just a tough game out there.”
Miami outshot Michigan State 42-22.
Prior to this series, Miami was 0-9 all-time against the Spartans in postseason play.
The RedHawks will face either Western Michigan or Ferris State in the CCHA semifinals, depending on the outcome of Sunday’s Ferris State-Bowling Green matchup. The Spartans will have to watch and wait to learn their fate for the NCAA tournament.