Getting hot in the last few games before the conference tournament is probably the best time to get hot when it's your only chance at getting to the NCAA tournament, and that's exactly what Ohio State is doing. The Buckeyes won their fourth straight conference game and fifth out of six with a 6-5 overtime victory over Michigan State last night.
The Buckeyes kept the momentum from their sweep last weekend of No. 6 Michigan with the victory and clinched fourth place in the Big Ten with the victory, giving the Bucks 28 points in conference with Michigan State in fifth with 19. OSU and Michigan State will meet again in the first round of the Big Ten Men's Ice Hockey Tournament on Thursday, March 17, at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
And if that game is anything like Friday's game between the two teams, we're in for a wild ride on St. Patrick's Day. Michigan State got things started with a goal at 7:46 from Ryan Keller. Shots were 14-11 in favor of the Buckeyes in that first period, but they just couldn't get one past Jake Hildebrand. The Spartans would take that 1-0 lead into intermission and this one, at the time, looked like it would be a defensive battle decided by the goaltending. It would not be.
The second period would be a giant pendulum shifting back and forth between the teams. David Gust tied it at one with his ninth of the year at just 2:38 of the second, with helpers going to Nick Schilkey and John Wiitala. MSU would go back on top at 5:35 with a goal from Mackenzie MacEachern, only to be followed by another OSU goal at 6:01 to tie it back up again. It was Luke Stork's sixth of the season, on a makeshift breakaway, from Dakota Joshua and Brendon Kearney. At 10:55, Michigan State decided they wanted their lead back and J.T. Stenglein provided the goal to make it so.
Naturally, Ohio State didn't like this too much, and Anthony Greco tied the game back up at three with his 12th of the year at 14:50 with assists from Josh Healey and Tommy Parran. Hildebrand was taken out by his own defenseman on the play and the routine shot from Greco found a way in. OSU would then get their first lead of the game on Gust's second of the game and tenth of the season at 16:05 and that 4-3 score would hold going into the second intermission. Drew Brevig and Kevin Miller recorded assists on Gust's second tally.
In the third period, Michigan State got sad about being behind for the first time and got a goal from Matt DeBlouw at 4:05 to cure their sadness and also tie the game. Ohio State was offended by this and Kearney scored his fourth of the year at 6:14 of the third to give OSU their lead back. Joshua and Stork were given the assists. Ohio State would carry that 5-4 lead for nearly as long as you could carry it without getting a regulation victory.
At 19:58 of the third period, with just 1.6 seconds left on the clock, Joe Cox decided we should get some free hockey. With the empty net and extra attacker, Cox found a way to get one past Christian Frey in net and sent the game to overtime. There was a pileup of humanity in front of the goal, but somehow the puck found its way in.
Frey stopped the four shots he faced in overtime, while Ohio State couldn't even get one until there were only 26 seconds left in overtime. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, that shot off the stick of Matt Weis found a way in and gave Ohio State the 6-5 overtime victory. It was Weis' 10th of the season, with the helpers going to Schilkey (of course) and Freddy Gerard.
Frey only stopped 29 out of 34 shots, for a poor .853 save percentage, but when the team scores like this, as long as the goaltending isn't horrific, the team's probably going to be fine. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, a team with a dearth of NHL talent probably can't score this much consistently for the rest of the season. Fortunately, they only have to keep it up for four more games to win the conference tournament in Saint Paul.
They'll hope to keep the offensive mushroom cloud in full effect when they play MSU on Saturday as a preview for the two teams meeting on St. Patrick's Day on Thursday in the conference tournament.