Once again there was a two-goal lead. Once again, the trailing team came back to knot it up.
Once again, Michigan and Ohio State skated to a tie, this time with OSU coming from behind to knot it up 3-3 and earn the point necessary to secure third place in the final CCHA standings.
In Friday’s game, Michigan led 2-0 before OSU scored four unanswered goals to go ahead, only to see the Wolverines tie it up in the last period and earn second place for themselves.
Saturday, RJ Umberger gave OSU the 1-0 lead in the first, but Michigan rebounded with three unanswered goals — by Jeff Tambellini in the first, David Moss, and Brandon Kaleniecki in the second — before Paul Caponigri and Daymen Bencharski scored in the third to send the game to overtime.
“I think it was a whole weekend of breaks and missed opportunities and taking advantage of opportunities, and there were also a lot of momentum changes in the games in the weekend,” said Michigan head coach Red Berenson.
“We had a good second period, they came back and had a good third. Yesterday they had a good second period; we came back and had a good third.
“Neither of these teams is going to lie down, but neither has a big advantage over the other.”
Al Montoya made 38 saves for Michigan to Mike Betz’s 28 for OSU. Michigan went 2-for-4 on the power play, while OSU went 1-for-6.
“I was very, very proud of our guys, the way they came back and laid it on the line,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “Third place was earned tonight.”
As in Friday’s 4-4 tie, each team came out with plenty of jump to give the mostly packed house a fast-paced, physical first period of hockey.
Umberger opened the scoring at 11:26, a bit of a “take that” after having been tripped by Montoya moments before. On his previous trip to the Wolverine net, Umberger became entangled with Montoya’s stick — no call, and the OSU junior got up and flew down to his own end, where he picked the puck up from Eric Skaug, skated in alone, danced around a Wolverine defender in the near side of left circle, waited for his moment, and backhanded the puck in between Montoya’s legs.
Tambellini nullified the Buckeyes’ brief 1-0 lead five minutes later on the Wolverine power play. With Michigan moving the puck very well and a defender effectively screening Mike Betz, Tambellini shot from the left point and hit the back of the net on the near side, clean.
The first period ended with a 1-1 tie.
David Moss put the Wolverines ahead 2-1 at 3:39, just a successful Michigan penalty kill. The Buckeyes coughed up the puck at center ice, and Moss skated in alone after taking a pass from Eric Nystrom, finding Betz’s five-hole for the go-ahead goal.
“In the second period, I thought we just got caught,” said Markell. “We lost a little bit of the momentum. I thought if we could play them five-on-five we were fine, but [Moss’s goal] wasn’t a good goal and it kind of winded us a little bit and we regrouped — and, bang, we’re back in the box.”
The Wolverines made it 3-1 in short order on the power play at 5:12. The puck lay motionless in the crease, and Betz got Kaleniecki’s first shot, but Kaleniecki was able to poke the puck out from under Betz’s glove and just past the goal line in the cage, and Michigan carried a 2-1 lead into the third.
But the Buckeyes roared back in the last 20 minutes of regulation, throwing everything they had at Michigan and outshooting the Wolverines 13-7. Paul Caponigri brought the Buckeyes to within one at 1:08 in the third when he stuffed the puck between Montoya’s legs, and Bencharski capitalized on the OSU power play at 11:45 to tie the game 3-3.
With 20 seconds remaining in overtime, Umberger had the perfect opportunity to challenge Montoya right after a faceoff in the right Wolverine circle, but he just didn’t have the wood.
“The funny thing is, every Thursday before games, me, [Markell] and [Ryan] Kesler actually practice that play,” said Umberger. “Kesler passes to me right there in the slot, [Markell] hooks at me, and I probably flip seven out of ten in.”
Although the Wolverines had secured home ice Friday night, Berenson said that his Michigan team knew there was a lot at stake. “This was an important game in the big picture, for both teams. When you look at the PairWise Rankings and the whole selection process that’s coming up, the outcome could have hurt or helped either team — a lot.
“We put our absolute best foot forward. This was not just a end-of-the-season game that didn’t mean anything. It meant a lot.”
For the Buckeyes, said Markell, there was more on the line than just third place in the final season standings. “We knew between the second and third [periods] that Michigan State had already won. What we wanted to do was establish for ourselves momentum going into the playoffs and play a good period, feel solid. I thought we played a very aggressive style of hockey and moved the puck well, and went back to the flow that we were used to.”
Second seed Michigan (24-9-3, 18-7-3 CCHA) hosts 11th seed Bowling Green in the first round of the best-of-three CCHA playoffs next weekend. Third seed Ohio State (22-10-5, 16-8-4 CCHA) hosts 10th seed Nebraska-Omaha in the first round.
The first two games of the UNO-OSU series will be played in Nationwide Arena because of a conflict in schedule at the Schottenstein Center. The first game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, and the second for 1 p.m. Should a third game be necessary, it will be held Sunday at Value City Arena, time TBA.