Well, things just got a whole lot more interesting.
No. 13 Ohio State had a chance to knock out any reasonable chance Wisconsin had to get to the NCAA Tournament with a win in Detroit versus the Big Ten’s number two seeded Badgers, but fell 2-1. This gives Wisconsin a trip to the Big Ten Tournament final and a chance to defeat the winner of Penn State-Minnesota and steal an autobid to the tournament.
That is not good for Ohio State. It’s highly unlikely, to put it kindly, that all three of Penn State, OSU and Wisconsin would get in should the Badgers steal that bid. And Penn State came into today ahead of Ohio State in the pairwise rankings. A loss to No. 5 Minnesota, their worst case scenario, is probably not going to drop them as far as a loss to Wisconsin does.
Penn State is still sitting pretty and Ohio State now is in trouble. Anything can happen in one game and Wisconsin now has that one game chance to likely erase any goodwill generated by the Buckeyes this season. Bring on the Big Ten final.
OSU just couldn’t generate the offense necessary this afternoon at Joe Louis Arena. Matt Tomkins only allowed two goals on 26 shots against, but it just wasn’t enough. The Buckeyes generated 24 shots on goal before Josh Healey, in possibly his last game in Columbus took an illegal contact to the head penalty and received a game misconduct with 2:28 left, killing any chance Ohio State had of coming back.
That is probably the worst possible time to commit one of the worst possible penalties, but OSU still doesn’t have any excuses. Nick Schilkey and Mason Jobst both had three shots on goal. Dakota Joshua had one and a goal. David Gust had three. But only Joshua, on a pretty pass before a deke in front of the net, could get one home.
Wisconsin freshman Jack Berry stopped 23 out of 24 shots and put Wisconsin on his back en route to a possible NCAA Tournament berth. He got just enough help on a goal at 17:18 of the first from Luke Kunin and the winner from Will Johnson just 1:30 into the third period after Joshua tied it up at one each at 13:48 of the second.
Ohio State found a way to put pressure on Wisconsin midway through the third but just couldn’t find a way to get one past Berry. Tomkins made a breakaway save to keep Ohio State within one, but Luke Stork’s interference penalty with under five minutes left in regulation, followed by Healey’s five minute major did in any chance OSU had and did away with any of their momentum they had from that pressure and an earlier powerplay.
OSU just simply let a chance to control their own destiny slip through their fingers. They swept this team (in Madison!) just a week ago. They’ve been the better team through most of this year, especially recently. They blew out Michigan State when they needed to yesterday. But when you do things like take the penalty Healey did or take a penalty just a couple minutes after the tying goal to give away any momentum, like Miguel Fidler did, you have to look at yourselves in the mirror. These are the games you have to win and the opportunities you have to take advantage of.
The No. 13 Buckeyes may have played their last game of the year, and almost certainly have if Wisconsin wins tomorrow, but if they don’t get into the NCAA Tournament, they have nobody to blame but themselves, unfortunately. They let this one get away despite a performance they don’t often get from their goaltending. But for once this year, the offense let the team down when it was needed most.