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Men’s hockey: Lack of offense hurts No. 12 Buckeyes in series finale with Michigan

Ohio State freshman defenseman Matt Miller fights for the puck against a Michigan forward against the Wolverines on Feb. 25 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

Entering the weekend, Ohio State and Michigan averaged 11 combined goals per game in their last six contests. After a 4-2 victory at home Friday night, the Buckeyes’ (17-9-6, 8-7-1-1) offense went silent in the series finale, falling in a quiet Game Two to the rivaled Wolverines, 1-0.

The lone goal in the game from Michigan freshman forward Nick Pastujov sealed the win for the visitors, who recorded just their first regulation win in 2017. The loss drops the Scarlet and Gray to 6-6-2 at the Schottenstein Center this year, and marks their first shutout loss at home since 2012 — a 4-0 loss to the Wolverines.

“I thought we chased it from the start,” coach Steve Rohlik said following the loss. “Give credit to Michigan, give credit to their goaltender. They did what they had to do to come in here to win a game.”

Similarly to Game One, the Scarlet and Gray controlled the tempo the opening half of the first period — but the Wolverines (10-17-3, 3-11-2-2) again found the back of the net first. Freshman forward Nick Pastujov cashed in from close range to give the visitors a 1-0 lead with a little over 10 minutes remaining on his first goal of the season.

Five minutes later, Michigan senior forward Max Shuart found himself one-on-one with OSU senior goaltender Christian Frey for a chance to quickly double the lead just outside the crease. However, the Buckeyes’ netminder prevailed with a pad save to keep the one-goal deficit into the first intermission.

Even on shots out of the locker room, OSU continued to pepper Wolverines’ senior goaltender Zach Nagelvoort throughout the period, searching for the equalizer. Rohlik’s squad provided a number of opportunities to level the scoreline, but the nation’s third-ranked offense lacked the finishing touch in front of net and struggled to bury its chances.

“(Chances) are so close at times with scrums in front of the net, and you wonder why they’re just not going, but it’s just kind of how it goes sometimes,” senior forward and captain Nick Schilkey said. “You can’t quit on it….we did force it at times, but for some reason they just weren’t going.”

It took nearly two full periods for the both sides to earn their first power plays of the game, but neither could add to the scoresheet in the second stanza as the visitors carried their lead into the third at 1-0.

More and more chances presented themselves in the final frame for Michigan to add to a one-goal advantage, or OSU to get back into the game. Frey and Nagelvoort continued to fight off waves of shots, but after 60 minutes, the Buckeyes dropped an important conference clash, 1-0, despite outshooting the Wolverines 42-23.

“Down the stretch, I feel like we drew a few calls that normally we would actually get. But the reality is that we have to score some five-on-five goals,” Schilkey said. “We’ve got to be better offensively five-on-five, and that was kind of the theme of the night.”

A home series with Michigan State, and a weekend trip to Wisconsin remain on the regular season slate for the Scarlet and Gray. With Big Ten seeding and NCAA tournament implications on the line in the closing weeks, Rohlik said his team can’t dwell on this loss to Michigan, and that their hopes of postseason play still remain in their control.

“We just want to get back on the ice. We got to get back after it next week, and have a great week of practice,” he said. “We just got to go out and keep winning hockey games, and as hard as it is, we’ve got to put this one behind us and we’ve got to look forward to Michigan State next week.”

Puck drop next Friday for Game One of a weekend series with the Spartans is set for 7 p.m., while the season’s home finale Saturday night is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.

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