COLUMBUS, Ohio — Five minutes into this one, it was all Ohio State.
“This was simply, I think, a case of men against boys,” said Nebraska-Omaha head coach Mike Kemp. “They were a dominant team tonight, really out-competed us in every aspect.”
Scott May netted two goals, RJ Umberger had a goal and an assist, and Ryan Kesler scored directly from a second-period faceoff in the Buckeyes’ 4-1 win over the Mavericks in this first-round CCHA playoff game.
Dan Ellis made 53 saves for UNO as the Buckeyes outshot the Mavs 57-18. David Brisson’s shorthanded goal from Greg Zanon in the third period ruined Mike Betz’s shutout attempt.
“Our guys competed hard,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “I was happy with the way we played. It’s one win, and we need two.”
The Buckeyes came out tentatively for the first five minutes of the game, but gave up next to nothing for the remaining 55 minutes.
“I think the first [five] minutes of the game were probably the best we played the whole game,” said Kemp. “I thought we came out with some pressure.”
But just over five minutes into the contest, the most interesting play of the game — May’s first goal — threw the momentum OSU’s way.
May, Miguel Lafleche, and Luke Pavlas crashed the Maverick net; Lafleche’s initial shot hit Ellis in the chest and dropped — where it lay until May poked it in.
The play happened so fast with the trio skating in so hard — with two UNO defenders in pursuit — that Ellis found himself in the back of the net with Lafleche, May and a couple of Mavericks piled into the crease.
Referee Steve Piotrowski reviewed the goal to determine if the puck crossed the line before the whistle had blown, and whether the OSU players had been pushed into the crease by the UNO defenders.
“Miguel made a really nice play, drove to the net hard,” said May. “The whistle hadn’t blown yet, and I thought, why not just push everything into the net? It ended up working.”
“That one goal — it was a shot, looked like it was covered, and got pushed back into the net on the second take, and that kind of set us back on our heels,” said Kemp. “As the period went on, nice power-play goal by Scotty May, and then I thought Ohio State really took it over the second half of the first period.”
May’s second goal, at 14:12 in the first, came from the left dot and beat Ellis on the long side.
Umberger lengthened OSU’s lead to 3-0 just 1:35 into the second, and at 14:41 in the middle stanza, Kesler’s heads-up, shorthanded play gave OSU a 4-0 lead. Kesler, lined up for the faceoff, simply took the shot as the puck hit the ice — taking Ellis and the Mavericks completely by surprise.
“I saw that [Ellis] wasn’t ready,” said Kesler, “and [Dan Hacker] wasn’t really lined up for the faceoff.”
Late in the third, Brisson and Zanon combined for a shorthanded tally of their own, bringing the final score to 4-1.
“They [the Buckeyes] deserve … all the credit,” said Kemp. “They dominated us basically from that five-minute mark on for the rest of the game, and really had their way with us, any way they wanted.”
Markell said that he actually expected his team to take a bit longer to adjust to the different rink and playoff situation. “I thought it might be a feel-out period for twenty minutes, but it was more like four or five, and then we started getting our legs out underneath us and got going.”
The teams meet again Saturday at 1 p.m. in Nationwide Arena. The quick turnaround, while not ideal, is necessary; the Columbus Blue Jackets host the Minnesota Wild Saturday night.
Kemp said that it’s up to the Maverick players to find a way to compete in the second game of the best-of-three series. “They’re going to have to find it within themselves to come out and get the job done, whichever way they can. We’ll set a game plan, and we’ll prepare for tomorrow, but it’s going to come down to how twenty guys in that room play.”
Even though OSU made this one look easy, Markell said the Buckeyes won’t take Saturday’s game for granted.
“We’re focused. We understand what we have to get done. I liked the demeanor of our team after the game. They’re happy with the win, but they know we have to get right back at it by one o’clock tomorrow.”