OMAHA, Neb. — Nebraska-Omaha (23-14-3) evened up its best-of-three playoff series with Ohio State (17-17-2), winning 2-1 on goals by Billy Pugliese and David Brisson and forcing a third game slated for Sunday night in the Omaha Civic Center.
Once again the Mavs scored early to force the Buckeyes to play from behind, when Pugliese picked up James Chalmers’ rebound at 5:25 in the first, capitalizing on UNO’s third shot on goal.
“I was real pleased with the way we came out in the first period,” said Mike Kemp, Maverick head coach. “I thought we had jump, and unlike last night we were able to sustain it … from start to finish. That’s the key. We’re not in the situation where we can play 20 minutes and then take 20 off and try to come back and play 20 more. We have to play thorough and complete from start to finish.”
Miguel Lafleche notched his second goal of the weekend for the Buckeyes late in the third period. Dan Ellis had 18 saves to Mike Betz’s 21.
“I thought we played well,” said Ohio State head coach John Markell. “Last night they hit a couple of posts, tonight we hit a couple of posts. It was reminiscent of the last time we were here, even though the score was six to one. I thought we came out and finished the game we wanted to finish it, with a little bit of momentum.”
In UNO’s first real offensive opportunity in the first period, Shane Glover passed up to Chalmers, whose shot squirted in between Betz’s leg pads. Buckeye defender Eric Skaug tried to clear it, but Pugliese poked it home for the early 1-0 lead.
In the second period, it was Brisson’s second goal of the series that would stand up as the game-winner, a “designed” play right off a face off in OSU’s right circle. Andrew Wong won the draw and passed back to Brisson, whose one-timer deflected in off of Betz’s stick at 12:05.
“Like every team today,” said Kemp, “you have several different faceoff plays, and that was a designed play. It was nice to see that connect. We haven’t run that play a lot this year and I don’t think we scored a goal on that play this year yet and it was one of those things…[when] sometimes the simplest plays are the best.”
Late in the second, the Mavericks found themselves down two men for the second time in the weekend, but unlike last night — when Jean-Francois Dufour was able to convert for the Buckeyes — UNO killed off 49 seconds of five-on-three followed by over a minute of five-on-four.
“Our guys did a great job … by not letting them have any chances, and the chances they did take went wide or over the net,” said Maverick defender Greg Zanon, who was by his own admission in the box and “holding my breath” at the time. “We took a lot of the net away. To finish that five-on-four at the end of period was just unbelievable. That could have been the turning point in the game. It gave us a lot of life going into the third period.”
Kemp agreed. “Last night we were in the same position, and we didn’t kill the five-on-three, and we go from a two-one game going into the third period to three to one. That was a big turning point. Let’s face it; you don’t see a lot of five-on-threes these days, and they’re a tremendous advantage. It’s big to kill those off, especially two that were as long as those two were.”
As the buzzer was sounding to end the second period, Skaug ripped one toward the net from the right point and banged it off the far post. There was some debate about whether or not the puck went into the net, and Markell seemed agitated as the players left the ice.
“What was upsetting me was that the goal judge took off right away,” said Markell. “I think he has to stay there in case the referee wanted to question him. His body language said it wasn’t in, but he has to stay there in case you want to question him.
“From our vantage point, it looked like the puck disappeared. Sometimes it hits the padding and the post, and that’s what we thought happened. But I saw [in review] that it hit the post.”
Ellis said, “I thought it was in. I was blessed.”
The Buckeye outshot the Mavs 7-4 in the third but could only get one past the outstanding Ellis. OSU defenseman Reed Whiting sent a cross-ice pass to Lafleche, who fired it long from the right circle at 10:09 for the only Ohio State goal of the night.
Even though the game was closer and the Civic Center was half as loud as Friday night’s overtime barnburner, Zanon said that Saturday’s contest was by far the more intense of the two.
“There were a lot more body checks thrown tonight, bigger body checks thrown. The crowd was right into it. Guys were banging even if they weren’t big; our forecheck was unbelievable tonight. You know, you don’t like to get hit a lot, and you flinch up and cough up the puck, and that’s our goal. Our forwards did a great job with that tonight.”
Each coach was happy with his team’s performance. Said Markell, “They played a good solid game, we played a good solid game. Again, a one-goal difference.”
Neither team capitalized on the power play. The Mavericks had three chances, while the Buckeyes had six.
Tickets for the third game go on sale Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m., and are available at Sapp Field House on the Nebraska-Omaha campus and through TicketMaster, or fans can purchase tickets directly from the Civic Auditorium box office at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Said Kemp of the rubber match, “Obviously we need to come out and play with the same type of intensity that we did tonight. It’s going to be an emotional game. It’s a trip to Detroit or it’s spring break.”