COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even though the Buckeyes completed a weekend sweep of Notre Dame with a 5-3 win on Saturday, Ohio State coach John Markell saw much room for improvement.
“We’re not playing the defensive side of the puck in the second game,” said Markell.
The Fighting Irish lived up to their name in spirit, outworking the Buckeyes solidly for the first 15 minutes of the game, and making OSU netminder Mike Betz earn his keep in the closing minutes, when the Notre Dame net was empty.
“We did generate a lot of scoring chances, but then we get ourselves into the position that with a lucky bounce or some good hard play by them may cause a goal, and they’re right back in it,” Markell said. “I think we have to display more patience with our game. I asked a few players after the game what they thought, whether it was physical or mental, and they said it’s definitely mental.”
In spite of Ohio State’s usual second-night letdown, several Buckeyes had multi-point games, including R.J. Umberger, who notched a goal and three assists; Paul Caponigri, who had two goals and a helper; and Doug Andress, who assisted twice. Mike Betz made 29 saves in his 13th win of the season.
For Notre Dame coach Dave Poulin, losing has become too familiar. “We played hard. We had chances. Had a couple of pipes,” he said. “We had a couple of great chances at the end when it was five-three, and we didn’t score a goal. It seems like every time they got an opportunity, they scored a goal.”
In spite of completely dominating the Buckeyes for the first 15 minutes of play — with the majority of action in the OSU end and Notre Dame outshooting Ohio State 12-8 — the Irish trailed 3-1 after one.
After peppering Betz repeatedly at the start of the game, no one was surprised when the Irish capitalized on their first power play at 5:14, scoring before Ohio State could register a single shot on goal. When Eric Skaug went to the box for holding the stick, the Irish handily closed the box, allowing Aaron Gill to pick up Ryan Dolder’s rebounded shot to give Notre Dame its short-lived lead.
At 6:32, Umberger answered for Ohio State with a power-play tally of his own. Umberger’s goal came after Dan Carlson — who scored the two Irish goals in Friday night’s contest, including a shorthander — broke away for another shorthanded opportunity, two-on-one with Dolder. After beating J.F. Dufour in the Buckeye zone, instead of taking the shot, Carlson passed back to Dolder, who fanned.
Dufour pounced on the puck and passed up to Caponigri, who fired to Umberger, breaking in on the left wing. Umberger’s slapper from the left found the opposite side of the net, tying the score on Ohio State’s first shot of the night.
Caponigri said the first Irish goal was a “wake-up call,” and admitted that luck had something to do with his role in Umberger’s goal.
“I thought that [Umberger] was their defenseman,” he said. “I didn’t know. I was surprised to see we had the puck.”
Scott May made it 2-1 at 13:49, backhanding in a rebounded shot by Dufour, and at 17:12 on another Buckeye power play, Caponigri extended OSU’s lead to 3-1 when Irish netminder Tony Zasowski couldn’t cover Umberger’s initial shot.
In the second period, a sweet cross-slot pass by Doug Andress set up Ohio State’s fourth goal, a power-play tip by Caponigri at 9:03, but less than a minute later, Notre Dame pulled within two again with a disputed power-play goal at 9:44. There were several players in the crease as Betz struggled to control the puck. The goal light came on, referee Brent Rutherford initially waved it off, but eventually Dolder was credited with the tally.
Ohio State’s fifth goal came after a successful Buckeye kill, when Luke Pavlas picked up the puck Miguel Lafleche left in the slot as he literally was being tackled by an Irish defender. Pavlas saw the idle puck, shot toward the net, and OSU was up 5-2 at 14:25 in the second.
Dan Carlson added Notre Dame’s third goal at 13:44 in the third after the Irish successfully killed several consecutive penalties, including almost a full minute of a two-man disadvantage, but in spite of intense, point-blank pressure by the Carlson-Dolder-Gill line during the closing minutes of the game, the Irish couldn’t catch a break.
In fact, Poulin said the lack of bounces extended to the non-whistle before Ohio State’s third goal, when Poulin said that Umberger was offside.
“We made critical turnovers, and once again I know too well, being in this game as long as I have, when you’re at this stage, you’re not going to get anything,” Poulin said. “Third goal was absolutely offside. There was no question about it. But you’re not going to get the call. You’re not.”
Markell said that sometimes the Buckeyes are “complacent” on the second night, and that the Buckeyes were fortunate to get out of the first period with a lead.
“Luckily, Mike Betz was there to make some saves in the first four minutes of the first period, where it could have been two- or three-nothing,” he said.
The Buckeyes coach had nothing but praise for Notre Dame, and admitted that “at this point in the season, two points are two points. You take them any way you can, and you’re happy with them.”
“You saw today why the CCHA is so tough,” said Markell. “You’ve got to compliment Notre Dame. They played a heck of a game. From start to finish, they gave it everything they got. They did make mistakes and we got some goals, but we caused our own problems. Notre Dame is better than their record.”
The win improves Ohio State’s record to 14-10-2 (11-7-2 CCHA) and moves it into a tie for fourth place with Nebraska-Omaha. The victory also caps the four-game, regular-season series from which Ohio State took seven of eight points from clustermate Notre Dame.
The Irish (6-21-5, 3-14-4 CCHA) remain in last place in the CCHA.
Next up for Ohio State is a home-and-home series with third-place Miami, playing Feb. 9 in Columbus and Feb. 10 in Oxford, Ohio. On the same dates, Notre Dame hosts 10th-place Bowling Green for two.