Ohio State women’s hockey earned a crucial game one win, as sophomore forward Emma Maltais scored a sudden-death game winner on a breakaway goal 28 seconds into overtime against Minnesota State.
The No. 10 Buckeyes (19-2-2, 12-10-2 WCHA) handed Minnesota State (9-18-7, 3-16-5 WCHA) a loss for the fourth time this season with a 3-2 win at home in a best-of-three series that opened the first round of the conference tournament.
Late game heroics are becoming routine for Maltais, who also scored the winning shootout goal against then-No. 1 Wisconsin last Friday.
“That’s the person you want with the puck on her stick at the end of the game,” Ohio State head coach Nadine Muzerall said.
Maltais was named All-WCHA First Team on Thursday and proved why with a two-point performance Friday that increased her 1.25 point a game average that led the conference entering the series.
Minnesota State did not make things easy for the Buckeyes, as freshman goalie and All-WCHA Second Team selection Abigail Levy stopped 39 of 42 Ohio State shots. Her 914 season saves entering the series make her No. 3 in the NCAA.
The Buckeyes were unable to convert in the third period despite blitzing Levy with 17 shots, but Muzerall said her stout play in front of the net was no surprise given prior performances of 41 and 42 saves against Ohio State this year.
Ohio State sophomore forward Liz Schepers appeared to score a game-winner when she barreled into the net in what appeared to be a goal before it was waved off for goalie interference 16 minutes into the third period.
This was one of several physical third-period plays, which Muzerall said is a brand of hockey that favors the Buckeyes, though she questioned the officiating.
“I thought there was a couple calls that the refs missed,” Muzerall said. “I understand it’s playoff hockey and they want us to play, so I appreciated that side of the game too. It didn’t slow us down by any means. If anything it fires us up.”
Minnesota State came into the series with 643 blocked shots, the most in the NCAA, and its 19 blocks on the night helped limit the scoring of an Ohio State offense that doubled the Mavericks 42-21 in shots.
The Mavericks faced a 161 combined shot deficit to opponents this season entering the postseason.
Sophomore forward Tatum Skaggs opened up the scoring for the Buckeyes with her team-leading 16th goal five minutes into the first period.
Despite not having a shot on goal in nearly the first 10 minutes of the game, Minnesota State got its chance following a tripping penalty by senior forward Charly Dahlquist.
The penalty was Dahlquist’s fourth in four games, contributing to the Buckeyes’ conference-high 7.3 penalty minutes per game.
Minnesota State freshman Brooke Bryant converted the power play and equaled the score at the 14-minute mark on what Muzerall said was a lapse in defensive effort.
“We were cheating to the wall and they exposed us to the inside,” Muzerall said. “In fact, we were doing that far too often in the first two periods.”
The Buckeyes regained the lead heading into the locker room as sophomore defenseman Lisa Bruno beat Levy to the upper left corner with a long-range laser beam for her second-career goal with a minute to go in the first period.
Bryant was not finished for the Mavericks. She once again knotted the score with her second goal of the night just a minute into the third period. Her 11 goals on the season make her the most prolific scorer for Minnesota State.
Muzerall said if the Buckeyes expect to get a similar result against Minnesota State on Saturday, improvements will have to be made in order to protect the puck.
“We were slipping away from the defensive side of the game and we need to bear down defensively, especially in playoff hockey,” Muzerall said.
In order to avoid a fourth-straight overtime game, Maltais said the Buckeyes have to take care of business in the first period.
“I think if we get on them early and pop a couple more in — just finishing our chances and making sure we lock down on defense before we think about the offense — I think that’s key for tomorrow’s game,” Maltais said.
The Buckeyes will attempt to sweep the Mavericks in Saturday’s 3:07 p.m. matchup while Minnesota State faces elimination and the continuation of an 11-game winless streak.