COLUMBUS, Ohio — After losing a 3-1 lead Friday night, allowing Ohio State to take a point in a 3-3 tie, Spartan John-Michael Liles put his own spin on a hockey standard.
“A two-goal lead is the worst in hockey,” said Liles, “and it was proven here tonight.”
Perhaps the Buckeyes should have read all about it.
After the Spartans jumped out to a quick one-goal lead, OSU scored three unanswered, giving the Buckeyes the proverbial two-goal lead — and this time it was Ohio State’s turn to watch that “worst” lead dissipate.
R.J. Umberger notched two highlight-reel goals and had an assist, Dave Steckel added two assists, and Mike Betz made 18 saves for OSU in the tie. Ash Goldie netted a goal and added an assist for Michigan State, and Ryan Miller stopped 30 of 33 Buckeye shots on goal.
“It’s kind of tit-for-tat,” said MSU head coach Ron Mason. “They were up by two tonight and we came back. We were up by two last night.”
“I think the guys are a little disappointed,” said John Markell, OSU head coach. “We let a point slip away. When it was three to one, I think we had quite a bit of momentum. I think we lost a little bit of it in the second period right after they scored their goal.
“I thought both goaltenders played well. I thought both teams played well. At points we had chances to score, and at points they had chances to score. It was one of those games. I do think we’re fortunate that our guys are not pleased at giving up that three-one lead.”
The Spartans took an early 1-0 lead on Goldie’s fifth goal of the season, a weak, slow-motion tally at 4:22. With traffic in front of Mike Betz, the Buckeyes could not clear the puck, which was lost among several defenders in the crease. When Betz didn’t see the motionless puck behind him near the goal line, Goldie took advantage of the lapse and pushed it in.
Paul Caponigri answered for the Buckeyes at 8:13, seven seconds after vacating the penalty box, where he and Spartan Troy Ferguson were sent for hitting after the whistle. With the teams four-on-four, the Buckeyes were buzzing around the Spartan end peppering Miller when Caponigri jumped into the fray. After taking a centering pass from Steckel — who picked up Umberger’s rebound — Caponigri ripped one in from the high slot to make it 1-0.
Just over two minutes later, Umberger scored what may have been the prettiest goal in a long line of contestants. Crossing from right to left through the slot and being taken down by Brad Fast, Umberger fell to his left but stretched his stick right to shoot up and over Miller, hitting the top of the cage just inside the bar.
Umberger’s second goal at 1:30 in the second gave OSU that dangerous lead. Fed by Eric Skaug from the OSU defensive zone, Umberger took the puck to the other end, weaved through several MSU players, and simply put the puck by Miller clean and long from the bottom of the left circle.
At 13:30 in the second, Andrew Hutchinson scored unassisted on a heads-up play in the OSU end. After the Buckeyes won a faceoff, in their own left circle, the puck cycled behind the net to Chris Olsgard, who tried to clear it up the right boards. Instead, Hutchinson intercepted and slapped it through traffic, finding nothing but net and bringing the Spartans to within one.
Brian Maloney’s goal from Goldie at 12:40 tied the game, setting up the second consecutive overtime match between the squads.
“We hung on,” said Mason. “When we got the second goal, I knew we had a chance. Then with a few lineup changes in the third period, one of them worked and we were able to get the tying goal. I thought the third period was our best period.”
Both goaltenders were tested throughout the night and the two-game series. After making great saves on breakaways and odd-man rushes Friday night, perhaps Mike Betz’s best save of the weekend came in the first period in this contest, when he robbed John-Michael Liles point- blank. Steve Clark’s shot from the bottom of the left circle bounced high off Betz’s blocker and came to Liles, who was camped at the right of the crease. Liles quickly popped it up high and appeared to beat the netminder, but Betz thwarted the MSU defender with a lightening- fast glove save just before the puck crossed the goal line.
“I was really happy with the way our guys came out,” said Markell. “I thought we got a little tired in the end, but it was a tough series. There wasn’t much space out there. There was a lot of body contact.”
The Buckeyes held the Spartans scoreless on five power-play chances, including two long five-on-three advantages, once at the end of the first period and then again in the third. “Our penalty kill came up and came up large,” said Markell, who wasn’t necessarily happy with the officiating in the contest.
“I thought their third goal was a pick,” said Markell, “but that’s just my opinion. When you play the top teams, sometimes you think they get the breaks. We’re just going to have to persevere through that.”
The Buckeyes themselves were 0-for-3 on the power play.
Mason summed up the two-game series, which drew more than 20,000 fans to Value City Arena. “I thought the fans this weekend were treated to two pretty darned exciting games. That’s good for college hockey, and it’s good for our two teams, really.”
Next up for Michigan State (19-5-5, 14-4-4 CCHA) is a two-game home series against Notre Dame Feb. 8-9, while the Buckeyes (14-10-4, 9-7-4 CCHA) travel to Fairbanks next weekend to take on the Nanooks.