Michigan State survived a frantic final three minutes to hang on for the 4-3 upset victory over Alaska in the CCHA Playoffs on Sunday night/Monday morning in Fairbanks, Alaska.
No. 11-seed MSU took the best-of-three first-round series 2-1 over the sixth-seeded Nanooks. The Spartans (13-23-3) will travel to No. 1 seed Miami (Ohio) for the best-of-three second round, which begins at 7:35 p.m. on Friday in Oxford, Ohio.
“They made it real tight, but we were good enough to fend that off,” MSU coach Tom Anastos told SpartanSportsNetwork.com after the game. “Our guys really deserved to win.”
Anastos earned his first series win in his second season at MSU. It was the Spartans’ first playoff series victory since defeating Nebraska-Omaha in the 2006-07 national championship season.
MSU built a 4-1 lead just 37 seconds into the final period when senior Anthony Hayes scored his fifth goal of the season. He also had the game-winner last Saturday against Western Michigan.
“I’ve been telling Anthony to shoot the puck, shoot the puck, shoot the puck,” Anastos said. “That one had eyes, because I thought their goalie was screened. It proved to be the game-winner.”
The Spartans appeared ready to skate into the second round easily until the Nanooks (17-16-4) put a major scare into them.
With 2:30 to play and Alaska having already pulled its goalie John Keeney, Jarret Granberg beat MSU freshman Jake Hildebrand to make it 4-2.
Keeney again went to the bench after the ensuing faceoff, when a familiar face burned the Spartans. Alaska’s Adam Henderson, who played one season at MSU back in 2008-09, stuffed the puck past Hildebrand to pull the Nanooks within one with 1:11 remaining.
However, MSU survived the final 71 seconds with Alaska continuing to attack 6-on-5.
“You could see the fatigue on the bench. Guys dug deep and found a way to win,” Anastos said. “That’s what I’m most proud of. It was a real gutty weekend.”
Hildebrand, who played after junior Will Yanakeff started the first two games of the playoff series, finished with 27 saves.
MSU scored four unanswered goals after Alaska got on the board first in the opening period. Hayes and sophomore Matt Berry each finished with a goal and an assist. Juniors Jake Chelios and Greg Wolfe also had a goal, while senior Kevin Walrod added a pair of assists.
The Spartans also managed to survive a 20-plus-minute delay after a pane of glass broke around the rink at Carlson Center early in the second period. MSU had just taken a two-goal lead moments before.
“We really had them on their heels and things were really going our way,” Anastos said. “We had a lot of jump and the pucks were going in the net. Then, all of a sudden, the glass breaks. My concern was we just lost lot momentum.”
MSU played without junior center Lee Reimer, who sat out with a leg injury he suffered during Saturday’s Game 2 loss to the Nanooks.
The Spartans now have won three of their last four and six of their last 10 games, which is their hottest stretch of the season. MSU lost both games at Miami back on Nov. 16-17 – a 2-2 overtime shootout defeat and a 2-0 shutout the following night.
The Redhawks (22-9-5) earned a first-round bye by finishing first in the CCHA regular season. MSU finished last in the league.
“I’ll start thinking about it right away,” Anastos said. “They’re just an outstanding team, and that’s not a place where we’ve fared well in the past two seasons I’ve been here.”