If Ohio State lost this game, any realistic chance of an at large bid to the NCAA tournament was likely up in smoke. They were already on the outside looking in going into the weekend, having struggled in conference, and a loss to Michigan State on Friday night really put them behind the eight ball. But the Buckeyes at least completed the first step on the comeback trail, defeating Michigan State, 5-3, in Columbus.
A Big Ten tournament victory was likely going to be needed for an NCAA appearance this year if they lost on Saturday night, following the embarrassment on Friday and the struggles overall in conference for the Buckeyes. They fell to 19th in the pairwise rankings following that loss on Friday and would’ve fallen out of the top 20 with a loss.
They’ll probably still need to sweep Wisconsin in Madison next weekend to have a chance, but at least we’re telling them there’s a chance.
Ohio State got solid goaltending from Matt Tomkins and never trailed on Saturday night, eventually outlasting Michigan State and holding on for a 5-3 victory, iced by Nick Schilkey’s 26th of the season with 11 seconds left in regulation.
The game would be a seesaw, back and forth, for the first two periods and change as Ohio State would go up by a goal, and then the Spartans would tie it. Three different times.
The first period personified this pretty well. Mason Jobst scored at 12:05, with assists from Josh Healey and Nick Schilkey. But just 36 seconds later, Sam Saliba scored for MSU and tied it up. David Gust scored at 17:37 of the first, with Healey and Schilkey again recording the assists, but Michigan State would score just 52 seconds into the second. That lead lasted barely three elapsed game minutes.
Kevin Miller scored just 1:01 after that as he continues to emerge for the Buckeyes. But Michigan State again tied it up at 3:48 on another goal by Saliba. Ohio State had led three different times at this point, but for a total of just 5:39. That’s not great!
But then all the scoring just stopped. Tomkins and MSU goalie John Lethemon calmed down and buckled down from that point on until the third period. Michigan State outshot Ohio State by a tally of 21-17 going into the second intermission, but it’s hard to fault the Buckeyes as Michigan State had trailed three different times by that point and had score effects on their side because of it.
The third would be the true test of Ohio State’s mettle and really show whether this time had anything in them to save any realistic NCAA hopes. Dakota Joshua showed what he has at least.
Joshua scored on the powerplay 5:04 into the third period after Cody Milan went off for tripping at 4:20. He blazed in his 10th of the year, with Jobst and Healey getting him the hookup.
That would turn out to be the game winner for the Buckeyes, as they added an insurance goal by Schilkey at 19:49 on the empty net. It was unassisted.
OSU survived surrendering eight penalty minutes in the first, with two penalties by Joshua within the first 5:57, and came back to outlast a team they should beat. All that was important in this one was beating a team they should beat, and they did.
Next week, they have to at least split with Wisconsin to have any slim chance and a sweep probably is the only way they have any realistic chance at an at large bid. Even if they sweep, they’ll likely still need a couple Big Ten tournament wins to get there. But at least there’s a chance.