OMAHA, Neb. — Ohio State head coach John Markell gave his players some simple advice as they rested between regulation and overtime in their first-round match against Nebraska-Omaha.
“I told them to be patient … stay on the defensive side of the puck, and good things might happen.”
And that’s exactly what the Buckeyes did, taking advantage of a Maverick defensive mistake and scoring on a three-on-two breakaway 38 seconds into OT to take a one-game lead in this best-of-three series by the score of 5-4.
Miguel Lafleche sent that game-winner home on a stunning pass from Paul Caponigri, ending a back-and-forth contest that absolutely epitomized playoff college hockey.
Maverick head coach Mike Kemp described the game as “very, very hard-fought,” and summed the game up in two sentences. “Both teams battled and had moments of domination and moments being dominated. It was an even hockey game, and they got the last shot in the net.”
Five different Buckeyes and four different Mavericks scored in the contest. Caponigri had three assists for the Buckeyes, and Dave Steckel had a goal and two helpers for OSU. Jeff Hoggan was the only Maverick with more than a point on the night, registering a goal and an assist.
Ironically, the win ended Ohio State’s five-game losing streak in the place where it began, with a 6-1 loss Feb. 17 in the Omaha Civic Center. The Bullpen is also the last place where the Buckeyes won prior to tonight, a 4-3 win Feb. 16.
“It was a big relief for all of us,” said OSU goaltender Mike Betz, who had 23 saves in his 16th win of the year. “Through the five-game losing streak, everyone was a little uptight. This is a big monkey off our back.”
Early in the game, it looked as though relief was a long way off for Ohio State as Hoggan crashed into the net, taking the puck in with him for a 1-0 UNO lead just 55 seconds into the match. The rest of the first period was scoreless, as the Mavericks outshot the Buckeyes 9-8.
Ohio State roared back with three unanswered goals in the second, two on the power play, to take a commanding 3-1 lead after two. At 1:28 in the middle stanza, Steckel tied the game after Mike McCormick made a gorgeous move to thread defenders at the blue line and force the puck into the Maverick zone.
Scott May made it 2-1 at 2:37, picking up his own rebound, and Jean-Francois Dufour took advantage of a five-on-three power play to give Ohio State the 3-1 lead.
With three unanswered goals of their own in the third, it looked as though the Mavericks had found a way to permanently swing the momentum their way. At 2:02, Brisson scored unassisted on the power play, beating Betz clean from the top of the slot.
Greg Zanon tied the game with his power-play tally at 10:25, and David Noel-Bernier put the Mavericks ahead at 16:54 with a blast that cleared traffic and caught Betz standing up.
But Ohio State wasn’t finished. Defenseman Eric Skaug knotted the game once more at 17:44, just his third career goal and his first in CCHA play.
“I just kind of shot it,” said Skaug, whose goal came immediately after the Buckeyes won a faceoff in the neutral zone. “I’d like to think he was giving me five-hole, but I just kind of shot it and it bounced off his leg and went in. I’ll take it any way.”
Then less than a minute into overtime, Steckel picked up the turnover in the OSU zone, the Buckeyes broke in three-on-two, and it was over. “Cappy made a great play,” said Lafleche. “All I had to do was tip it in. It’s good to score one that early in overtime, to get to rest tonight. We thought we were in for a long one.”
“We weathered the storm [in the third] and were very opportunistic to get the draw and get a shot on net and get it through,” said Markell.
“On the winning goal, we’d just missed a breakaway before that. I think that opened our eyes up. For once, we paid attention to what we wanted to do … to just get it toward the net.”
Kemp said the Mavericks need to do a better job in the second period in Saturday’s rematch. “That’s generally been one of our better periods in the course of the season. For whatever reason, Ohio State really had an upper edge on us. Of course, they had the five-on-three power play at the end that they scored on.”
Brisson said that the only team that the Mavericks only need look in the mirror to determine why they lost tonight. “We beat ourselves. It’s not like they outplayed us. We made some mistakes, and that’s why they won.
“We have to realize that we have a chance to come out tomorrow and Sunday. We know that we’re a way better team than they are.”
Dan Ellis, who had 26 saves, called his own performance “unacceptable.” “If we’re going to go anywhere, goaltending is huge, and my game just didn’t show up.”
Markell said, “You have to win one before you win two. Coming in here, if we were going to have a chance to win this series … we’d have to start off with a win tonight. We gave ourselves the chance.
“We showed a lot of character coming back. So did they.”