Going into the series, coach Steve Rohlik told the team he wanted it to play with a playoff mentality.
“You know it’s all about getting better, and when we talk about playoff mentality, the NHL season is a long grind and you see what happens in the playoffs. It’s the ultimate sport to watch in the playoffs and I said, ‘That is the mentality you have to have,’” Rohlik said.
But even with that mentality, the Buckeyes followed a 2-1 Friday win with a 3-2 loss on Saturday.
The loss means the Buckeyes’ chances at a higher seed in the Big Ten Tournament have become slimmer. OSU is guaranteed a spot in the six-team tournament, but will likely have to face a top-three seed as the Buckeyes sit at fifth in the conference with eight regular season games to play.
Senior forward Tanner Fritz said making a late-season push will come down to playing with pride and confidence.
“(We are playing for our) pride. You have to play desperate hockey all the time and you want to go into the tournament with some confidence,” Fritz said. “It was a great opportunity for us tonight to get our first sweep, and we came up short.”
Rohlik said he thought his team played with a bit of the playoff mentality in Friday’s game but didn’t feel the Buckeyes had the same approach going into Saturday’s matchup.
“I talked to the guys after, I said, ‘You guys have to play desperate,’ and we talked about playoff hockey. Tonight’s performance was a different version of playoff hockey than I understand,” Rohlik said.
With the offense falling short of the playoff mentality, the Buckeye defense stepped up and portrayed a bit of the desperation that Rohlik was looking for. After a total of 25 blocked shots against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes showed that they are willing to put themselves on the line for the puck.
“If you’re in the lanes, you have to sacrifice your body for the team, and we talked about that and we have to continue to do a better job of that,” Rohlik said.
With just four series remaining on the Big Ten schedule, including another against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes will be looking for the playoff mentality to become a part of their everyday game. Senior assistant captain Matt Johnson said there are no excuses for losing games.
“We weren’t executing like we were supposed to, we strayed completely away from our game tonight,” Johnson said Saturday. “(It) doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we need to come out the same way every single night. We know our strategy and we know our game plan and we just need to stick to what we know.”
OSU’s Friday win snapped a six-game losing streak. Junior forward Tyler Lundey and sophomore forward Nick Schilkey tallied the goals for the Buckeyes.
“I liked the end result, but I didn’t feel we started out great,” Rohlik said. “We are just scratching the surface. It’s a big win for our team. Anytime you can walk away with a win, it’s a huge boost to the confidence.”
The rolling confidence started out strong for the Buckeyes as they came into Saturday’s game, taking the lead early in the first period. But they were unable to hold on to the lead, going into the third period tied, 2-2. The Badgers added a third goal to thwart OSU’s attempt at a series sweep.
Rohlik said the fast start might have been more of a hindrance than a positive.
“It hurt us scoring the early goal because we just weren’t the same after that,” he said. “Even getting up 2-1, our execution tonight was off. We didn’t take care of the puck.”
The Buckeyes will look to restart this week in practice ahead of a home-and-home series against Michigan on Friday and Sunday.
“Now it’s just focusing on getting better; next week we have to continue to grind and get better. We have to fix our flaws that came out this weekend and start moving in the right direction,” Johnson said.