NCHC Roundup: Miami Leads Surprise Effort From Lower Seeds
CHN Staff Report
One night after St. Cloud State pulled off a stunning comeback, including the tying goal as time expired, only to lose in overtime, Miami put another dagger in.
This time, Miami rallied, and finished it off, scoring with two seconds left in regulation for the winning goal.
The goal capped a surprise sweep of the series by the last-place RedHawks over top-seeded St. Cloud State. Miami, which was picked to finish first in the new NCHC during preseason polling, was one of the nation's top disappointments during the regular season.
But now it will play in Minneapolis next weekend, against either North Dakota or Western Michigan, in the NCHC semifinal.
Down 2-0 entering the third, Sean Kuraly and Austin Czarnik scored for Miami to tie it. St. Cloud got one back, but the RedHawks tied it again with 7:52 remaining. The heroics then came from freshman Justin Greenberg on just his second goal of the season, and first since Jan. 25.
"We didn't lose the series tonight, we lost it last night in Game 1," SCSU coach Bob Motzko said. "This was a much harder fought game. Our penalty kill didn't get it done tonight.
"We were playing very well, limited their chances, we were on top of it, good energy. We missed a coverage on the first one, a very questionable call on the second one, but our penalty kill's gotta get it done.
"It just wasn't meant to be in the cards for us this weekend, and that's what's disappointing. I assume we're going (to the NCAAs). We have two weeks to get ready to play."
St. Cloud State's spot in the NCAAs is all but assured, according to the Pairwise.
Minnesota-Duluth had trouble winning at home all season, and it caught up with the Bulldogs in the postseason.
Western Michigan capped off a two-game sweep, despite getting outshot, 37-11, rallying in the third period for the win.
It was 3-2 when Justin Kovacs scored the Broncos to tie the game. That was followed 1:27 later by one from Kenny Morrison, and it held up as the game winner.
"We got behind early and I don't think we were ready to match their intensity, they were fighting for their lives tonight," said WMU forward Chase Balisy, who had his 13th goal in the second period. "We just stuck with it, we've never gotten down on ourselves all season.
"We definintely took advantage of our chances tonight. I don't think we had as many shots as we wanted, but the shots we had, guys really beared down and put the puck in the net."
Western Michigan will face either Miami or Denver in the NCHC semifinals next weekend.
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Denver advanced to the NCHC semifinals with a Game 3 at Nebraska-Omaha on Saturday. Ty Loney broke up a scoreless deadlock on a goal with 13:44 left in regulation, and senior goalie Sam Brittain came up huge again for the Pioneers.
Brittain finished with 34 saves and erased four breakaway opportunities for Omaha with one outstanding stop after another, frustrating the Mavericks’ skaters all evening long.
The shutout is Brittain’s fifth of the season and his 34 saves mark his 16th game on the year with 30-plus stops, including each of the last two games of playoff series.
"Tonight I thought was our worst team game of the year (and) the series but when you have the best goalie in country in Sam Brittain and he stops four breakaways and three two-on-ones, you have a pretty good chance to win,” Denver coach Jim Montgomery said. “Once we settled down after the beginning of the first period we played better positionally and managed the ice better.”
It ends another disappointing season for Nebraska-Omaha, which still has just one NCAA appearance to show in coach Dean Blais' five seasons.
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Colorado College has lost a lot of games (23), nearly one-third of them (7) in overtime, this season. But the hockey gods smiled on the Tigers on Saturday.
CC freshman wing Alex Roos knocked in a rebound exactly seven minutes into OT to give the Tigers a 3-2 victory and square the series with North Dakota at one game apiece.
North Dakota (21-12-3) outshot the Tigers (7-23-6) 46-29, but fell into a 2-0 hole like it did Friday night, only to fall short of digging all the way back out tonight.
That means the Tigers could make it a clean sweep of the lower seeds in the NCHC upsetting the top four seeds in the first round, with league champ St. Cloud, No. 3 Minnesota-Duluth and No. 4 Nebraska-Omaha already knocked out.
"Wouldn't that be a wonderful way to start the NCHC tournament in Minneapolis?," CC coach Scott Owens said. "It'll be interesting."
Senior Josh Thormbert made 44 saves to put the Tigers in position to win. "For us to have success here, he (Thormbert) has to be our best player, and I thought he was our best player tonight.''
UND didn't manage a shot on goal until a point shot by defenseman Troy Stecher at 12:52 of the opening period. UND jacked up its offense after that, but with 46 shots over the final 54 minutes, but Thormbert was outstanding.
The loss puts North Dakota in precarious position for the NCAAs as well.
"It's do-or-die," UND's Jordan Schmaltz said. "If we win, we put ourselves in a good chance to get into the national tournament. If we don't, we could see our season end early."