Members of the Ohio State men’s hockey team celebrate during the Buckeyes’ victory over Princeton in the first round of the NCAA tournament on March 24, 2018. Credit: Nick Hudak | Lantern photographer

ALLENTOWN, Pennsylvania — In a year of firsts, Ohio State accomplished something special in its opening-round matchup against Princeton that it hasn’t done in 20 years. 

It found itself in the win column of the NCAA men’s hockey tournament.

The Ohio State (25-9-5, 17-9-2-1 Big Ten) men’s hockey team captured its first NCAA tournament win since 1998 and advanced to the Midwest regional final with a 4-2 win against Princeton (19-13-4, 10-10-2 ECAC) in Allentown, Pennsylvania, at the PPL Center Saturday.

“This is about the Ohio State University. This about all the guys that have been there prior to me,” Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik said. “We have a rich history of hockey and we’re just trying to carry that on and again at the end of the day. It’s exciting to win a hockey game.”

Ohio State sophomore forward Tanner Laczynski and junior forward Freddy Gerard both had two-point nights, while Sean Romeo was a catalyst, making 23 saves on 25 shots in the winning performance.

“He’s the rock, he’s been there all year. We have tremendous amount of confidence in him, Rohlik said. “He came up big when we needed him tonight and that’s what great goaltenders do.”

In a battle of top-ranked special teams in the country, Ohio State’s penalty kill held Princeton’s power play to just one goal on seven attempts with the only Tiger power-play goal coming with 26 seconds left in the game.

“I think we did a good job of not even letting them really get set up. We did a good job on face-offs and getting those early clears [of the defensive zone],” junior forward Mason Jobst said. “Then it’s kind of hard to get in the zone and get set up against us, once we get those first couple of clears.”

Ohio State got two goals 20 seconds apart in the first period to give it an early two-goal cushion. Throughout the season, the Buckeyes were 12-0-1 when scoring the first, which was key in a tight game early.

“Our record shows that when we score first we are a very good team,” Jobst said. “To come out and get two goals in the first period and give us a lot of confidence for the rest of the game.”

With six penalties called in the opening frame, the Buckeyes were the one to capitalize with the man advantage. Laczynski fed Jobst at the top of the left circle and fired shot bar-down over the glove hand of Princeton freshman goaltender Ryan Ferland to give Ohio State the 1-0 lead. That gave Jobst his team-leading 20th goal of the season.

Just 20 seconds later, sophomore forward Ronnie Hein found senior forward Kevin Miller in front of the net, who tipped it past Ferland for a two-goal lead.

The penalties continued to pile up in the second period, but only for the Princeton Tigers, including one that resulted in the loss of junior defenseman Josh Teves.

Teves, one of the team’s defensive leaders, received a five-minute major and a game misconduct for contact to the head on a hit to Ohio State junior forward Dakota Joshua, early in the second period.

When Ohio State had lapses in play, Romeo always had an answer, making a number of key saves to keep the lead intact headed to the final period of play.

The Buckeyes added goals from Laczynski and Gerard to expand the lead to four goals, but to much of Romeo’s dismay, Princeton added two goals in the final 26 seconds to spoil the shutout bid.

Ohio State led in shots 28-25. Ferland made 24 saves on 28 shots in the loss.

The Buckeyes advance to the Midwest regional final to face either Denver or Penn State with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line. Puck drop is at 6:30 p.m. Sunday inside the PPL Center.