March 11, 2013
Michigan State scored twice in a 33-second span early in the second period and withstood a late two-goal flurry by the home team, posting a 4-3 victory over Alaska in the CCHA first-round series at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks. Eleventh-seeded MSU (13-23-3 overall) captured victories in games one and three of the series to advance to the quarterfinal round, where it will take on Miami, the regular-season CCHA Champion.
The Spartans win their first CCHA post-season series since 2007, and on Friday earned their first postseason victory since the 2008 season. MSU battled fatigue, injuries, and a determined Alaska club, but held on in the end to earn a spot in the quarterfinal series.
MSU was without centerman Lee Reimer, who was injured in Saturday's game. Head Coach Tom Anastos switched up his goalies, going with the freshman Jake Hildebrand, who saw his first playoff action on Sunday evening.
I thought we defended really well, and we got pucks to the net," said Anastos. "I thought we played a smart game, and played over a lot of adversity - the flu, and Reimer being out - and you could see the fatigue. I'm so proud of a really gutty weekend by our guys. "
The Nanooks got two power play chances before the game was six minutes old, and converted on the second one to take a lead at 5:46. Leading scorer Andy Taranto took a pass from Nik Yaremchuk in the left circle, and wristed a puck that floated over the blocker-hand shoulder of Hildebrand.
Michigan State got the equalizer at the midpoint of the period to knot the score at one. While skating on an abbreviated 5-on-3, Brent Darnell found Greg Wolfe in the left circle. Wolfe showed poise as he waited for the defender in the slot to commit, skated to his right, and ripped a wrister past Keeney for his ninth goal of the season. Darnell and Matt Berry got the assists.
Keeney robbed Kevin Walrod on the next shift, gloving the winger's shot with a quick snare to keep the game tied. In the final minute of play, Hildebrand turned in a bit of thievery of his own, as he quickly flashed his right foot and made a toe save on Cody Kunyk at the left post that would have given the Nanooks a first-intermission lead. Instead, the teams were tied at one as they retreated to the locker rooms.
The Spartans opened the second period with a pair of goals before the four-minute mark to take a 3-1 lead. The first one came on a rush - Kevin Walrod took a swipe at the puck as he was falling just insofde the blue line, knocking the puck to Jake Chelios. Chelios had his shot blocked, but he collected the rebound and skated into the high slot just above the hash marks and backhanded a shot that beat Keeney glove side. Just 33 seconds later, Ryan Keller stole the puck from a Nanook defender, batted it across the top of the crease, and found Matt Berry for his team-best 14th goal of the season.
The Spartans gained momentum from their back-to-back goals, but then had to endure a lengthy delay as Keller launched Nolan Keiser into the near boards, and the force shattered the pane of glass. Play resumed after a 20-minute delay. Despite some chances at both ends, neither team could find another goal in the period, and the Spartans retreated to the locker room with a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes of play.
The third period opened with Anthony Hayes sending a blast netward from the right point, pushing the lead to three goals. Walrod intercepted a clearing pass by the Nanooks, and sent it back to his classmate. Keeney had trouble handling the puck, and it jumped over his glove-hand shoulder.
Alaska did not cut into the lead until there was 2:30 remaining in regulation, but scored twice in the final stretch to make things interesting. With 2:30 remaining, Jarret Granberg jumped on a rebound at the hash marks, and beat a screened Hildebrand over his glove-hand shoulder. Adam Henderson poked home the puck at the right post to pull the home team within a goal at 1:11.
Hildebrand finished with 28 saves, while Keeney had 22. The Spartans will play top-seeded Miami in Oxford next weekend in a best-of-three quarterfinal series.