Robert Morris (9-14-3) had just swung momentum in a big way. After trailing 1-0 after the first period, the Colonials popped home two goals in 21 seconds to begin the second frame.
No. 12 Arizona State (18-9-3) was in need of a response. The ensuing shifts included a hard Sun Devil forecheck, and that led to back-to-back RMU penalties. From that point, ASU smelled blood in the water as they went to a 5-on-3 advantage, and they wasted no time.
The team buried two goals, retaking the lead and deflating any RMU energy in the second frame. The two backbreakers would be two of three goals scored on the man-advantage, as the Sun Devils etched out a second consecutive one-goal victory by defeating the Colonials 5-4.
“The power play has been good and you want the power play to get you momentum and get you chances,” said ASU head coach Greg Powers of the special teams’ success. “It’s really done that all year and it was a matter of time before those started going in. These guys are doing the right things, and finally they got rewarded.”
Two of the power play tallies came from junior forward Johnny Walker. He deposited the first goal of the evening on a juicy rebound, and the second came courtesy of a redirection on a shot from sophomore defenseman Josh Maniscalco.
Rocking a new mustache after shaving his beard, the facial hair seemed to do the trick for the junior goal-scorer who was riding a four-game goal-less streak.
“Whatever else it was, wasn’t working,” said Walker with a chuckle of the new look. “We can credit the mustache.”
Assistant coach Alex Hicks, who commands the special teams at practice, was also under the weather this weekend. With an absence on the Sun Devil bench, Powers had to poke fun at his counterpart during his postgame media session.
“I think it was that Hicksy was sick and he wasn’t here,” said a sarcastic ASU head coach with a chuckle when asked about the power play.
Nevertheless, whatever the secret was, the puck was finding its way through whenever a Robert Morris player was sent to the sin bin.
One of the biggest sequences in the second period was also when ASU responded with three goals in less than two minutes. The two power play goals came first, but when things got back to full strength, the Sun Devils added another thanks to a set up from senior forward Brett Gruber.
Entering the offensive zone with a head of steam, Gruber drove the center lane before dropping off a pass on the tape to junior defenseman Gvido Jansons, who activated on the rush.
Jansons let loose a one-timer that found its way in for his first goal of the season. Then at the 11:48 mark of the second, junior forward Willie Knierim, who registered two goals last night, put home a fifth Sun Devil goal to make things 5-2.
Knierim lit the lamp for the 13th time this year, and he was a strong net front presence once again on Saturday.
Senior defenseman Brinson Pasichnuk, who scored ASU’s second goal of the night, elaborated how Knierim, along with Michigan transfer James Sanchez, have affected this year’s team in such a positive way.
“Willie is a big mule who we need in front of the net who is really good at tipping pucks,” Pasichnuk said. “And James, he is one of the most skilled players I have seen with the passes he can make through seams...They both have been so huge for us.”
Altogether, the power play had five goals on 10 attempts in two games, and eight of ASU’s goals this weekend came on the man advantage.
Despite the lethal offensive weapons, it wasn’t a coast to the finish line for the Sun Devils. For the second time in as many days, ASU had a three-goal lead that they saw trimmed to one.
After going up 5-2, RMU put home a goal from junior forward Nick Prkusic, making the score a dangerous two-goal Sun Devil lead going into the final 20 minutes.
Prkusic netted two goals for the Colonials in the second, then just over five minutes into the third, RMU freshman forward Santeri Hartikainen beat ASU sophomore goaltender Evan DeBrouwer to make the score 5-4.
The third period surge occurred for the second straight night, but once more, it would fall short.
ASU tightened up and held on the rest of the way. Although the back-to-back wins is a positive, there’s still room for better closeout hockey and trying to put out fires.
“We talk about closing teams out and we got to start doing that because you can’t leave games like that up to chance,” Walker said. “One shot and it’s a tie game and we are in a dog fight again. But I think that on the bench, there was no doubt that we were winning that game no matter what happened...I think we had a good response all night.”
Ultimately, no further harm was inflicted, and Powers’ group skated away with an all important two victories.
They might not know it tonight, too, but with other results in games from around the country, the Sun Devils also jumped three spots from No. 11 to No. 8 in the current Pairwise Rankings.
With six games left, ASU sits in the driver’s seat to try and earn a postseason berth.
“Everybody is chipping in and that’s what is so good to see,” Powers said. “We love our depth and everyone is going pretty good right now. We have won eight of our last 10 since January 1 and seven of our last eight, so we are playing good hockey right now, and it’s like I told the guys after the game, we got to finish the job. We have to see it through.”