That went about as well as it possibly could’ve. The No. 1-seed Ohio State Buckeyes came out slowly against No. 4 Princeton, but eventually woke up and dominated a team that only received a tournament bid due to a conference tournament win. Princeton came in with the nation’s No. 1 ranked power play and No. 3 scoring offense, but could barely generate anything against the Buckeyes until the last minute of regulation. The Buckeyes ultimately took the game 4-2 after Princeton put in two in the last minute.
Freddy Gerard, Tanner Laczynski and Dakota Joshua especially took it to the Tigers, with the former two using speed to break the Princeton trap and Joshua singlehandedly destroying the nation’s top-ranked power play, which came in converting at 28.5 percent. Granted, Princeton doesn’t exactly come from Hockey East, but even against weaker competition, that’s daunting. They came in winning seven in a row to get here and 13 out of 16 and got skated off the ice by the Buckeyes.
Ohio State seemed to go out of its way to give Princeton a chance to fully weaponize its scoring offense, taking eight minor penalties. Against a good power play, that’s a bad idea. Against a team that can only beat you by outscoring you? It’s a real bad idea. But Dakota Joshua had other ideas.
Joshua was Ohio State’s best skater against Notre Dame in last weekend’s Big Ten title game, exerting himself physically and pushing around the Irish. He showed up similarly today, just putting excellent puck pressure on Princeton’s power play and forcing them to not even be able to set up until the game was out of hand.
Laczynski and Gerard capitalized the times Ohio State wasn’t on the penalty kill. Tanner had a goal and assist, while Gerard set up Laczynski’s goal and scored one of his own in the third to really put this one on ice. Mason Jobst and Kevin Miller scored the other two goals, the first two, just 20 seconds apart in the first period.
OSU came out sputtering in the first, seemingly unable to generate any offense. Princeton wasn’t doing anything of their own on the offensive end, but you don’t want to give a team that is an underdog the chance to feel like they belong on the same ice with you. The teams traded non-threatening powerplays but on Ohio State’s second chance, after Matthew Thom went off for holding at 12:52 of the first, the Buckeyes capitalized.
Ohio State was able to get the setup they wanted and, despite seeming to get too cute looking for the perfect powerplay chance, found the shot they were looking for. Tanner Laczynski found Mason Jobst near the left point. Jobst costed to the top of the circle and just rifled one past Princeton goalie Ryan Ferland.
.@OhioState_MHKY takes advantage of the power play!— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 24, 2018
Mason Jobst lights the lamp to make it 1-0 Buckeyes.#NCAAHockey pic.twitter.com/k59ORGdypk
Just twenty seconds later, back at even strength, Ohio State doubled the lead. Ronnie Hein used his speed to fly down the right wing and just threw the puck to the front of the net, where Kevin Miller got his stick on it and put it past Ferland to make it 2-0.
...20 seconds later and Kevin Miller scores to give @OhioState_MHKY a 2-goal advantage!#NCAAHockey pic.twitter.com/ekfz1pvj9P— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 24, 2018
Ohio State gave Princeton another chance on the powerplay in the first, including a 5-on-3 chance, but Dakota Joshua probably had the best scoring chance during that period.
The second would have ample powerplay opportunity for both teams, especially Ohio State, but the game would go into the second intermission with the same score as the first: 2-0 Ohio State.
Josh Teves was sent off for Princeton for contact to the head of Joshua at just 1:37 of the first and received a game misconduct. Ohio State couldn’t capitalize on the powerplay time, however. Princeton just wouldn’t be put away. But any momentum they gained from that momentous kill failed to translate into offense as they failed in their only power play chance of the period as well.
In the third, it was more Ohio State offense before Princeton made this one look a lot closer than it was in the final couple of minutes.
OSU’s third goal looked remarkably similar to the second, as Freddy Gerard found his way to the right win and just threw the puck at the front of the net, where Laczynski found a way to get it in past Ferland. Ferland didn’t see Laczynski and looked to be sliding to the right post to guard against another shooter, but Laczynski streaked out of nowhere for the tip to the left post, and it was 3-0 OSU 3:55 into the third.
It's 3-0 Ohio State!— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 24, 2018
After a scoreless second period, Tanner Laczynski puts it in the back of the net for @OhioState_MHKY.#NCAAHockey pic.twitter.com/envuo9u4i0
The fourth goal would be a weird one and one that would make the ending to this game a lot less nerve wracking. A shot by Luke Stork went wide and found its way all the way around to Gerard, who was staring at a wide open net. Ferland was nudged by Jobst, but it was well outside the crease and barely inhibited his movement, so it stood and OSU was up 4-0 and this one was pretty much over.
IT'S FOUR!— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) March 24, 2018
The floodgates are opening for @OhioState_MHKY in this third period as Freddy Gerard adds to the lead.#NCAAHockey pic.twitter.com/8yTy0AeUpX
Princeton pulled Ferland toward the end because they still couldn’t generate any offense despite being down four goals to give their senior goalie, Ben Halford, time in the crease as his career came to an end.
And then they somehow scored two goals in the last minute, one on the power play, and made this one look a lot closer than it otherwise was. Matt Nelson scored one at 19:34 on that power play, and David Hallisey jammed home another 16 seconds later, to make it 4-2.
But Sean Romeo wouldn’t allow a third in 30 seconds, and Ohio State held on to win the game, 4-2. The Buckeyes win their first NCAA tournament game since 1998 and are now within one game of the Frozen Four. They will take on the winner of Denver/Penn State tomorrow night in Allentown, Penn.