COLUMBUS, Ohio — Right about now, Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin is probably wondering what it takes to beat Ohio State.
After a week off, the Buckeyes extended their unbeaten streak to three games with a 5-2 win over the Fighting Irish. The last action Ohio State saw prior to Friday night’s victory was a two-game series in South Bend, which included a 5-3 win and a 2-2 tie.
Poulin, who called the game “our season in a microcosm,” said, “We’re having trouble believing this year, for whatever reason. I don’t know why. If things don’t go our way early, we have a difficult time getting on track and believing.
“As a coach, you’re trying to instill belief in a group of individuals that aren’t [seeing] any tangible results, and it’s been very frustrating.”
Buckeye junior Mike McCormick registered his first career two-goal game, including the game-winner, and Dave Steckel had a tally and two helpers. Dan Carlson had Notre Dame’s two goals, assisted each time by Aaron Gill.
The Buckeyes jumped out to a two-goal first-period lead with two four-on-four tallies by R.J. Umberger and Steckel. Without the solid play of Irish netminder Tony Zasowski, who stopped three point-blank shots by T.J. Latorre in the stanza, the score easily could have been much more lopsided after one.
In the second, the Buckeyes let down a bit and were forced to kill a number of penalties, including a double-minor to Eric Skaug.
“I thought we produced enough chances to score a few more goals [in the first],” said John Markell, Ohio State head coach. “After creating a few goals, we got a little restless and tried to create the chances by getting a little risky. It was a learning process in the second period. Obviously we needed a big kill, which was important. We got the big kill, then we got back to simple hockey — dumping it in deep and making their defense work, and generating our chances off of that.
“We had enough chances to win the game, but I thought they had enough chances to stay in it. Their goalie played very, very well.”
Umberger’s opening goal at 8:47 was set up by a long, barely on-sides pass by Pete Broccoli. From just inside the neutral zone, Broccoli fired cross-ice to Umberger, straddling the Irish blue line. Umberger crashed in through the left circle and beat Irish netminder Tony Zasowski long to make it 1-0.
At 14:28, Steckel waltzed into the Irish zone and made a major-league move around Neil Komadoski to get to the net.
“I was pretty surprised when [the puck] slipped through his legs,” said Steckel. “I wasn’t expecting the poke-check. That kind of caught me off guard. I was going to try to go in a little closer, but I just shot it.” Steckel fired from the left of the crease and found the back of the net on the short side, giving Ohio State a 2-0 lead after one.
McCormick’s slapshot from the left point at 4:47 in the second surprised Zasowski to make the game 3-0. After the puck went in five-hole, the Notre Dame goaltender looked back into the net, stood up straight, and looked down at his own knees.
Less than two minutes later, Carlson’s first goal of the night cut Ohio State’s lead back to two, a short shot from in front of the net, in heavy traffic while both teams were playing four aside. The second period ended with OSU up 3-1.
Midway through the third, J.F. Dufour extended the Buckeye lead to three again with a garbage goal on the OSU power play, his 12th goal of the season. Steckel swept the puck across the Irish crease, where it careened off a Notre Dame defender’s skate and onto the stick of Dufour, who pushed it into the net.
Dan Carlson struck again at 12:10, this time shorthanded, and piggybacked the whole length of the ice by Buckeye Doug Andress, but McCormick added his second goal on the power play just over a minute later to cap the game. Nick Ganga fought for possession along the boards on the right side of the neutral zone, then passed up to the crashing McCormick, who made it look easy when he beat Zasowski clean and long.
McCormick, who just two weeks ago was a healthy scratch against Michigan, said that being moved up to play on line with Steckel and Paul Caponigri increased his chances to score.
“When you get bumped up to the second line from the fourth line, it always helps a little bit, but it’s all about how you skate as an individual. When you play with good guys, they’re going to help you out.”
The Buckeyes were 2-for-7 on the power play, holding the Fighting Irish to no goals on six man-advantages. Mike Betz had 24 saves in the win, while Zasowski stopped 27 of 32 shots.
Ohio State (13-10-2, 10-7-2 CCHA) and Notre Dame (6-20-5, 3-13-4 CCHA) meet again at Value City Arena for their final regular-season match Saturday night.
“We’re right back at ‘em,” said Poulin. “They’re a better first-night team, we’re a better second-night team.”