Despite being without goalie Bryan Hogan and captain Chris Summers, Michigan swept Michigan State with a 5-1 win on Friday and a 5-3 win on Saturday. The wins came in front of a Munn Arena Yost West crowd that had lots and lots of Michigan fans in attendance (on the radio broadcasts the Michigan chants were louder than the MSU ones). The invasion of Munn Arena was a definite success, just as the play on the ice was for the Wolverines.
Friday’s game was straight up dominance from start to finish. Carl Hagelin scored 7:06 into the game on a breakaway, and David Wohlberg put it past Drew Palmisano three minutes later. Three more minutes later Louie Caporusso scored his first goal of the night to put Michigan on top 3-0. All 3 goals were scored within a span of six or so minutes, and Michigan State looked just absolutely shell shocked.
Steve Kampfer scored a power-play goal only 21 seconds into the second period to continue Michigan’s dominating play. Michigan State did show some life with a power-play goal of its own 14:31 into the period thanks to the puck taking a weird bounce as it went past Shawn Hunwick. Any hope MSU had of making a comeback was put to rest, however, thanks to Louie Caporusso. With only 43 seconds left in the second period, Caporusso scored his second goal of the game to put Michigan on top 5-1. This was a deflating goal for MSU and was basically the end of the game. Aside from a goalie change by Michigan State, nothing really happened in the third period. Michigan won 5-1 and set itself up for a chance to sweep the Spartans on Saturday.
The start of Saturday’s game looked like a repeat performance of what happened on Friday. Matt Rust scored 8:25 into the first period on a power play, and only 21 seconds later A.J. Treais put it past Drew Palmisano to make it 2-0. Rick Comley decided to not play around and pulled Palmisano after Treais’ goal. Replacing him was Bobby Jarosz, who stopped all 7 shots he faced in the third period on Friday.
As the first period winded down, Michigan had all of the momentum and looked like it was well on its way to another victory. That all changed after Chad Langlais and Tristin Llewellyn took a couple of penalties, though. Michigan State took advantage of the 5-on-3 and Andrew Rowe quickly scored with 3:05 left in the period to cut the lead in half. Still on a power play, Rowe scored again only 36 seconds later to tie the game up at 2. Michigan looked shell shocked for a change, and that was especially evident after MSU went back on the power play following another penalty by Llewellyn. With less than a second left on the clock, Nick Sucharski scored to give Michigan State its first lead of the weekend.
The Wolverines were facing some serious adversity heading into the first intermission, but boy did they respond in the second period. After giving up 3 quick goals like Michigan did, including 1 with less than a second left in the period, it would have been really easy to lose all composure and fall apart. The intermission couldn’t have come at a better time for Michigan, though, as it got things together and flat out dominated Michigan State in the second period, starting with a Ben Winnett power-play goal less than four minutes in. That was the only goal Michigan scored in the second period, but its dominance showed up on the stat sheet in the form of shots on goal. Michigan outshot the Spartans in the period 16-1, which is just absolutely astounding and pretty much sums up how dominating of a period it was for the Wolverines.
Michigan managed to carry that momentum into the third period and retook the lead when Chris Brown scored just 2:40 into the final stanza. The Wolverines later killed off a penalty with nine minutes left in the game and played some great defense in front of Shawn Hunwick, who faced 11 shots in the final period. As time was winding down, MSU had a few looks but couldn’t get any decent scoring chances. Goalie Bobby Jarosz was pulled with around a minute left and Michigan didn’t even give the Spartans a chance to sustain any pressure in its zone. Instead, after dumping the puck into MSU’s zone, Michigan kept applying pressure and David Wohlberg stole the puck and sealed the game with an empty-netter with 31 seconds left on the clock. The celebration officially began shortly after as Michigan won 5-3. Amazingly, this was the first time Michigan won back-to-back games in East Lansing since 1975, and these victories definitely couldn’t have come at a better time.
With the sweep of the Spartans, Michigan advances to the CCHA semifinals at Joe Louis Arena for the 21st consecutive season. Which team Michigan will play is still to be determined because Ohio State beat Miami (Ohio) in overtime on Saturday to force a third and deciding game in that series. The other series were sweeps, as Ferris State and Northern Michigan both only needed two games to take care of business. With the way the CCHA playoffs are reseeded after each round, two scenarios exist for the semifinals:
If Miami beats Ohio State…
#1 Miami vs. #7 Michigan
#3 Ferris State vs. #4 Northern Michigan
If Ohio State beats Miami…
#3 Ferris State vs. #8 Ohio State
#4 Northern Michigan vs. #7 Michigan
Quite honestly, I would much rather see Michigan play NMU rather than Miami. On paper it would be a much easier path to the NCAA tournament for Michigan if it had to go through NMU and then either Ferris State or Ohio State. Miami has showed that it can be beat recently, but I’d rather not have Michigan go up against one of the top teams in the country. After all, Michigan is just two wins away from an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament, so the easiest path possible would be ideal at this point. Either way, the fact that Michigan has made it this far is pretty great all things considered.
Michigan’s sweep of MSU actually vaulted the Wolverines all the way up to a tie for 16th in the PairWise Rankings. It’s time like these where you look back and just cringe at how poorly Michigan played at times this season, because if you could turn one or two of the losses on the schedule into wins, then this team would be in good shape for an at-large bid. Actually, had the CHA conference tournament not taken away an at-large bid (Alabama-Huntsville won the tournament, meaning Bemidji State will get an at-large bid), Michigan would have an outside shot at making it into the NCAA tournament without having to win the CCHA playoffs. I imagine there is still some scenario out there that would make that possible, but it is probably so unlikely that Michigan should only bother worrying about what it can do, and that is keep the tournament streak alive with two wins in Detroit next weekend.
Perhaps the best part of sweeping Michigan State is the fact that the Spartans’ season is now over. The Spartans dropped all the way down to 18th in the PairWise Rankings (below Michigan), meaning they will for sure not be getting into the tournament as an at-large team. MSU would have been in good shape if it made it past Michigan, but getting swept burst the Spartans’ bubble and actually put them in worse shape for an at-large bid than Michigan. If you would have told me that a few weeks ago, I probably would not have believed it.
(Side note: Because this weekend’s games were broadcast on Comcast, I had to watch Michigan State’s online stream (a live feed from their videoboard and their radio announcers). Thankfully there was a coupon code to watch the action for free, because I definitely would have been pissed off if I actually paid for it. The video wasn’t too bad, but the announcers were awful. I expected them to be homers and don’t have a big problem with that, but the color commentator especially was just so obnoxious. Every time there was a possible penalty or a scoring chance he would start screaming “COME ON” and sounded like a loudmouth fan. It was pretty ridiculous and beyond annoying, but the best part of the audio feed came right after Saturday’s game. The radio broadcast went to a commercial, but the audio feed was still playing on the stream and allowed everybody to listen to the following exchange between the producer and who I believe was the play-by-play announcer.
Producer: “That’s unprofessional. Stop.”
Announcer in a really defensive tone: “FINE!”
I wish the producer wouldn’t have waited so long to call out the announcer for being unprofessional, but that was a pretty funny way to end the stream, which was shut off almost immediately after.)