This game personifies the dangers and benefits of a single elimination tournament. The more talented team is in danger of having their superior talent come up unlucky in a single game. The lesser team hopes to slow down the better team and get more luck and bounces to steal a win. That was exactly what played out today in Detroit, but the Buckeyes still came up short.
It's a disappointing end to the season for the second straight year. It's not quite the heartbreaker of losing in overtime of the tournament title game as they did to Wisconsin last year, but Ohio State outplayed Minnesota for a majority of the hockey game today and still came up short. One bad giveaway in the second and a puck slipping through Christian Frey was all that Minnesota would get and all they'd need.
Chad Niddery was robbed by an excellent Adam Wilcox in net for Minnesota on a beautiful pass from Nick Jones. That fourth line, along with Nick Oddo, even controlled play today. David Gust nearly banked one in on a pass off of Christian Lampasso's skate, but it just went wide. There was one bump off of Detroit's notoriously fast boards that jumped out to the slot, unbeknownst to Wilcox, but nobody was there to capitalize. Gust got another slot chance but had his stick lifted at the absolute last moment.
The Buckeyes just couldn't take advantage of their opportunities. Christian Frey was stopping everything sent in front of him, even with Minnesota's superior top end talent.
But then they got their one shot and they didn't mess up. Al McLean took a seemingly harmless puck behind the net, but got pinned against the boards. Sam Jardine tried to clear it but it ricocheted right out to the front of the net where Sam Warning put it in the one inch of the net where it'd fit. That was the game winner.
The Buckeyes weren't deterred and still seemed to control play. They couldn't capitalize, still, but were still putting pucks on net and not letting Minnesota get any great chances. They Minnesota just slipped one through Frey where Vinni Lettieri gave it the final nudge it needed before Frey could fall back onto it.
Minnesota would add a third in the third when Frey's net was empty. Travis Boyd got the tally.
This was probably the closest 3-0 game I've ever seen. Christian Frey was excellent, but even he can't stop open, lucky shots from the slot and completely prevent a trickling puck. Adam Wilcox was marvelous and lived up to how he's played in conference this year. The Buckeyes' lack of top talent showed as, despite opportunities, the best offensive players in Anthony Greco and Tanner Fritz couldn't bury a single opportunities.
The Buckeyes would pour it on in the third, especially after the third goal, but still couldn't get a single puck past Adam Wilcox. Greco, Gust, everyone was stoned. Wilcox played as well as a goalie can possibly play and took the outplayed Gophers to the victory and the final of the conference tournament to face the winner of tonight's Michigan vs. Michigan State game.
It was a meandering, underachieving, plagued Buckeye season where the team looked like it was finally putting it together. When you can even outplay the best team in the conference, it really looks like it came together. But they just didn't have the offensive talent to take down Minnesota. So, for the second straight year, the Buckeyes are heartbroken after losing a conference tournament game they could have won.
The Buckeyes' body of work didn't deserve to get to the tournament or anywhere close, but once again, they got way closer than anyone thought they would and there's something admirable about that.