The Spartans hung tough tonight, but once again the second period doomed Michigan State as Miami exploded for three more goals in the middle period to break open a 1-1 tie and earn the two game sweep over Michigan State. The defeat was Michigan State's 10th straight in the CCHA playoffs.
The loss also puts Michigan State's NCAA hopes on life support. Michigan State currently sits in a tie for 14th in the Pairwise with Western Michigan (who beat LSSU tonight to advance to Joe Louis Arena). The Spartans hold a slim .0011 edge in the RPI, and it's that edge that might help get MSU into the NCAA tournament.
Michigan State needs to remain no worse than 15th in the Pairwise to have a shot. Only the Atlantic Hockey Champion will be guaranteed to be outside the top 16 in the PWR, so that will eliminate the team that sits in 16th for an at-large bid (currently Northern Michigan). Should another upset happen, and someone outside the top 16 of the PWR win their conference tournament, that will move the elimination line up to 15th - which right now is Western Michigan. Western, with one win next week, probably will pass Michigan State. If Ferris State beats Bowling Green tomorrow, Western will face Michigan next Friday in the semi-final. If BGSU pulls off the upset, Western will face Miami.
Torey Krug ended the scoring drought tonight against Knapp with a power play goal in the first period. That stopped the streak at 175:28 which dated back to the first period of the first game between the two teams this season.
In the end, Miami was just too much for Michigan State. The RedHawks are very talented, well coached, and they are playing their best hockey of the season right now. This all means they will be a tough out next weekend at the Joe and in the NCAA tournament (they might be a #1 seed).
If Michigan State doesn't make the NCAA tournament, all eyes will turn to Krug to see if he will remain in East Lansing for another season. No one could blame him for testing the NHL waters right now, as his stock has grown quite a bit over the last two years. If he adds the POY award this week, then it might never be higher. While it would be great to see him back in East Lansing for his final season, it's tough to say 'no' to what could be coming his way.
In the end, I think most MSU fans will be satisfied with the positive step forward the program took this season. Most people thought MSU would be fighting to get home ice in the first round of the CCHA tournament, yet they managed to get a first round bye. With Coach Anastos, Miller, and Newton behind the bench, the program has regained focus, and things appear to be looking up here in East Lansing.
In the meantime, we'll be looking up at the scoreboards for the remainder of this weekend and next. We'll break down what needs to happen from here on out for MSU to potentially get one of the last at-largeg NCAA bids. And that would be a great reward for a team that has worked so hard to get things right this season.