After finding themselves dumbfounded and on the wrong side of 5-4 scoreline in Game One Friday night, the No. 13 Ohio State men’s hockey team relied on its Big Ten-leading powerplay efficiency to carry them to a victory in Game Two.
Converting on 3-of-4 powerplay opportunities, the Buckeyes (18-10-6, 9-8-1-1) closed out their home slate of the 2016-17 season with a 5-3 win over the Michigan State Spartans (7-22-3, 3-13-2-0) on Senior Night.
Senior forwards Nick Schilkey and David Gust, junior forward Kevin Miller and sophomore forwards Mason Jobst and Dakota Joshua all found the back of the net for OSU in the victory. Jobst, Joshua and Schilkey also registered assists in the game, as well as three helpers from senior defenseman Josh Healey and one from sophomore defenseman Tommy Parran.
Senior goaltender Matt Tomkins proved effective between the pipes for the Scarlet and Gray despite allowing three goals, notching 22 saves.
“I just think our guys were going to be determined to win a hockey game tonight for a lot of reasons,” said OSU coach Steve Rohlik. “I think most importantly it was the group in the room — they just weren’t going to let each other down tonight, and I think that was our attitude.”
The OSU penalty kill was on display early in the first period, as Joshua entered the penalty box twice in the first six minutes. But after warding off two Spartan powerplays, the Buckeyes earned one of their own and quickly capitalized on the opportunity.
Jobst took a pass from Healey, and the sophomore fired a wrister from the slot into the top corner to put the Scarlet and Gray up 1-0 with 7:55 remaining in the period with his 16th goal of the season and second of the series. Schilkey also recorded a helper on the play, his 13th of the year.
The lead, however, quickly disappeared as Michigan State freshman forward Sam Saliba cashed in on a power play just 36 seconds later to tie the game at one with his second goal of the weekend.
With three minutes left in the first, the Spartans found themselves on the penalty kill for a second time — and the nation’s most efficient powerplay offense again took advantage of the extra man.
Off a pad save from Michigan State freshman goaltender John Lethemon, Gust one-timed the rebound from the point into the back of the net to put OSU in front 2-1 heading into the first intermission with his 15th goal of the season and third point of the series. Healey and Schilkey each notched their second assist and point of the game on the goal.
Out of the locker room, the Scarlet and Gray lead swiftly vanished as the Spartans tied the game at two just 52 seconds into the period when freshman forward Patrick Khodorenko tapped in a pinpoint pass from outside the crease on the powerplay.
Less than two minutes later, the Scarlet and Gray regained the lead as Miller’s shot deflected over Lethemon and trickled into the net to put OSU back in front 3-2 on the junior forward’s 10th goal of the season. With 16:18 remaining in the period, however, the visitors netted their third goal of the night on the rush as Saliba buried his second of the contest.
Chances remained abundant for both sides throughout the final 10 minutes of the period, but as the horn sounded around the Schottenstein Center, the Buckeyes and Spartans entered the locker room in a 3-3 deadlock.
Five minutes into the final frame, it was the OSU powerplay again. Jobst pushed a pass to Joshua behind the Michigan State net, and the Dearborn, Michigan, native carried the puck to just outside the crease and wristed a shot past Lethemon for his 10th goal of the season and second point of the night. Healey also notched his third assist of game on the go-ahead goal.
With time winding down, both OSU and Michigan State produced opportunities to extend or cut the lead. The Spartans emptied their net and controlled the puck with less than a minute remaining, but a sloppy pass in the neutral zone turned into Schilkey adding another for the home side with an empty-net goal with under 10 seconds left.
After 60 minutes, OSU captured three important conference points on Senior Night to close out the home slate of the season with a 5-3 victory.
“I think we just played a better team game tonight, especially in the third,” Healey said. “The boys knew what was on the line… and every win is important, so we just came out in the third, locked it down and did everything we could to limit their chances.”
One series remains on the schedule for the Scarlet and Gray, as they will travel to the Kohl Center for two conference clashes with the Wisconsin Badgers. With that, Rohlik said his team will have to continue to make adjustments down the stretch, and that refining skills in certain parts of the game will lead to more success on the ice.
“We’ve got to still become a better five-on-five team,” Rohlik said. “We’re understanding that it takes a lot of hard work five-on-five to get to the dirty areas, and I think if we can improve in that area, if we can improve on the (penalty kill), I think our best hockey is still ahead of us.”