COLUMBUS, Ohio — Midway through the third period in Friday’s game between the Michigan State and Ohio State, the Buckeyes had to feel as though history would never stop repeating.
Down 3-1 after Adam Hall’s top-shelfer, one week after losing two games to MSU in East Lansing — and scoring just one goal in each — something extraordinary happened to the Buckeyes in Value City Arena.
They came back to tie the game.
The Spartans and Buckeyes skated to a 3-3 tie in front of 9,000 enthusiastic fans — another extraordinary occurrence — marking the first time since 1998 that OSU has taken at least a point from MSU.
“It was an interesting game,” said MSU head coach Ron Mason. “In the second period we had all kinds of chances, and I thought that Betz played really well. In the third period we got up by two, and I thought we could win the game.”
Dave Steckel scored the first two goals for the Buckeyes, Yan Des Gagne notched the tying goal, and Mike Betz stopped 28 in the match. For the Spartans, Ryan Miller made 30 saves, and John-Michael Liles had a goal and an assist.
Steckel’s first goal opened the scoring at 10:42 in the first, a shot that beat Miller short from behind the goal line to the right of the cage. Steckel took it himself from the Buckeye zone down along the left-side boards and around behind the net, where he passed to Scott Titus at the right point. Miller saved Titus’s blast but gave up a rebound to Chris Olsgard, who was camped out on the doorstep. Miller then saved Olsgard’s shot from point-blank range, but the puck took a long bounce out to Steckel, who made the third time the charm.
It appeared that OSU would take a 1-0 lead into the second, but a penalty on John Toffey at 19:04 cost the Buckeyes their lead. With the Spartans swarming in front of the Buckeye net with ten seconds to go in the period, Mike Betz made a total of three saves from close range — two on Liles — before Brian Maloney tied the game with 4.4 left in the stanza.
The goal gave Michigan State momentum in the second, when the Spartans outshot the Buckeyes 11-6 and Betz kept the game close. Liles’s 11th goal of the season at 2:57 gave the Spartans the 2-1 lead. Again, it was pressure close in and slack defensive play down low that gave Liles the opportunity to score. With Betz sprawled to save a shot from Steve Clark, Liles had a wide-open net and popped one in from the left circle.
At 6:29 in the third, Adam Hall walked in through the slot, waited for his moment, then backhanded the puck up and over Betz on the stick side — a pure goal-scorer’s goal — to give Michigan State a 3-1 lead, and it seemed that the Spartans had control of the game.
Anyone who has followed the Buckeyes this season knows that OSU doesn’t score more than two goals in a game on a regular basis, and that the Buckeyes have a difficult time coming back when down, especially against a team as good as Michigan State, and a goalie as good as Ryan Miller.
But everyone who follows hockey knows what can happen when a team is up by two.
“A two-goal lead is the worst in hockey,” said Liles, “and it was proven here tonight.”
With Des Gagne and Spartan Kevin Estrada serving two minutes each for high sticking and an awful lot of open ice, Steckel struck again from the same angle, opposite side. After Doug Andress fired wide left of the MSU net, the puck bounced off the back dashers and out to Steckel on the goal line. Steckel shot from a near-impossible angle and beat Miller long to bring the Buckeyes to within one.
Then with 1:54 left in regulation, Des Gagne picked up Umberger’s pretty garbage in front of the Spartan net to tie the game. With Miller sprawled left to defend Umberger, the puck somehow went right to Des Gagne, who lifted it over Miller while falling to the ice himself.
From Steckel’s second goal through the end of overtime, the Buckeyes controlled the tempo of the game, in spite of Michigan State’s attempt to slow things down with a time out late in the third. The Buckeyes outshot the Spartans 8-5 in the third, and 5-2 in.
“We were working so hard,” said Steckel. “It’s Michigan State and you’re down three to one. We haven’t had too much success playing from behind.
“This sets the tone for tomorrow. I think we did ourselves good by coming out hard and not letting down.”
Mason said the turning point in the game was Steckel’s second goal. “Ohio State picked up on the emotion of the building, I thought, when they got [that] goal, and then they started getting bounces. When the bounces start going your way, especially when you’re at home and the crowd’s into it, usually you sustain a pretty good forecheck and every chance you get seems to be more dangerous.”
OSU head coach John Markell said he thought a tie was warranted, “especially with the second period when Mike Betz held us in.
“We played them nice and tight in the first period,” said Markell, “and their power play went to work. That was a situation where we had a little bit of a retaliatory penalty that cost us. Then in the third period we created our chances.”
The Spartans were 1-for-3 on the power play, the Buckeyes 0-for-1. MSU (19-5-4, 14-4-3 CCHA) and OSU (14-10-3, 9-7-3 CCHA) meet for their last regular-season game at 8:05 p.m. in the Schottenstein Center Saturday night.