OXFORD, Ohio — Last-place Michigan State’s run in the CCHA Playoffs came up just short of a surprising trip to Detroit.
Top-seeded Miami (Ohio) scored two goals early, then added two in the final period to eliminate the 11th-seeded Spartans 4-1 on Sunday night in Game 3 of their second-round playoff series.
“We asked them to empty their tanks, and I thought our effort tonight was as good as it gets,” MSU coach Tom Anastos told Spartan Sports Network. “We played with great heart. I thought we played with great toughness.”
The Spartans end their season 14-25-3 after finishing last in the final CCHA regular season, the program’s first trip to the league’s basement in its 32-year association.
It’s also MSU’s second-most losses in a season, two short of the 27 suffered in the 1977-78 season under Amo Bessone.
“I’m real proud of the players and how hard they worked and how hard they learned to work,” said Anastos, who is 33-41-7 in his two seasons. “We’ve got a ways to go. We have to get better and get at it and be real committed to making progress in the offseason. But I thought we added a building block in a real difficult season.”
The third-ranked RedHawks (24-10-5) advance to Saturday’s CCHA semifinals at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and will face No. 6 seed Michigan. No. 2 seed Notre Dame and No. 4 Ohio State will play in the other semifinal. The winners will meet in the championship game there next Sunday.
Miami got two first-period goals, chasing MSU goaltender Jake Hildebrand after 20 minutes.
First, the RedHawks’ Kevin Morris took advantage of a Hildebrand mistake 4:57 into the game. The Spartans had a power-play chance and the puck went into the right corner, where the Spartan freshman came out of net to play it. However, he misplayed the puck, and Morris sent it into the open net.
Sean Kuraly made it 2-0 Miami with 2:07 to play in the period. Hildebrand, who made nine saves, would be replaced to start the second period by junior Will Yanakeff.
The Spartans pulled within a goal, thanks in large part to five Miami penalties in the second. MSU freshman Matt DeBlouw scored his 10th goal of the season 6:46 into the period, with the RedHawks at a two-man disadvantage. It was DeBlouw’s fourth of the playoffs, and he scored in each game of this series.
MSU got a delayed penalty call on the DeBlouw score but couldn’t capitalize on that 5-on-3 advantage.
The Spartans got whistled for all three penalties of the third period, and Miami built a two-goal lead with 10:58 to play. Kuraly beat Yanakeff for his second of the game on the power play.
“Special teams, in many ways, were the difference in the game,” Anastos said. “We gave up that short-handed goal, which was a bad goal to give up. And then we had the 5-on-3s consecutively. We got one (goal) – if we get another one, then it’s a different game. Then they get the all-important next goal in a 2-1 game on the power play.”
Austin Czarnik added an empty-net goal for the RedHawks with 23.6 seconds remaining.
It was a productive end of the season for MSU after a woeful midpoint. The Spartans won seven of their final 13 games and upset No. 6 seed Alaska in the first round for their first postseason win since 2008 and first series victory since 2007.
“Our effort down the stretch, as our team gained experience and got better, was another building block for us trying to reestablish the excellence we expect here,” Anastos said.
MSU will compete in the Big Ten hockey league next fall.