SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — To reverse an old adage, “It’s not how you play the game, it’s whether you win or lose.”
Despite playing with their backs against the wall during the third period, the Ohio State Buckeyes managed to ward off a rare Lake Superior State offensive onslaught to win 3-1.
“We’re not happy with the way we played,” said Buckeyes head coach John Markell. “We got some timely goals, obviously, but we’re certainly not happy.”
Ohio State (19-7-3, 15-4-1 CCHA) capitalized on the few chances the Lakers allowed them. The Buckeyes’ first goal came off the forecheck, when Rod Pelley ended up in the slot and blasted the puck over Jeff Jakaitis’ right shoulder at 3:27 to make the game 1-0.
The Buckeyes’ vaunted power play earned them their second goal of the night. Dan Knapp slid the puck untouched through the Laker crease where Dominic Mainai blasted it into the undefended net to make the score 2-0 11:54 into the second stanza. Pelley added a empty-net power-play tally late in the third to secure the victory.
Lake Superior (7-14-6, 6-8-5 CCHA) finally caught a break late in the second period. The Laker power play, which had been 0-for-51 in a span lasting nearly two months, finally scored a goal when Ren Fauci shot a laser over Dave Caruso to close the gap to 2-1. Even with the proverbial monkey off the Lakers’ back, coach Frank Anzalone did not see ending their power-play drought as a big deal.
“[The goal was] not as important as losing,” Anzalone lamented.
The third period is where the game was lost for Lake State. The Lakers dominated in their offensive zone and won the battles along the boards, forcing Ohio State to play back and defend its net.
“That’s the way they play the game; this is their rink,” said Markell. “We have to be accepting of the way the game is going, and I don’t think we transitioned well into that type of game.”
Even with the game being played in the Buckeye end of the rink, the Lakers were only able to get seven shots on net compared to Ohio State’s nine.
“You’ve got to score goals to have offense,” said Anzalone, obviously disappointed in the loss. “Setting up is okay, but you have to score.”
Markell was also unhappy with the way his team was pushed back in the period.
“We were trying to be a little bit of a fancy team,” said Markell. “It was more losing the one-on-one and 50/50 battles and Lake Superior did that and controlled the boards on us.
“We have to do a better job against a team that plays that way.”
For OSU, Caruso came up big when he needed to. He made 23 saves on the night.
“We depend on him, especially in a game like that,” said Markell. “That’s what you need from your goaltender, and we were fortunate to have him here tonight.”
The two teams meet again Saturday night in the Taffy Abel Arena. The Buckeyes will try to extend their winning streak to four games, while the Lakers will try to end a seven-game winless streak. The puck will drop at 7:05 p.m.
Notebook: Big Playoff Implications
With Michigan’s tie with Michigan State, the Buckeyes gained one point in the battle for first place. Ohio State is now just two points behind the Wolverines, who were once thought to have the CCHA title all but wrapped up.
The Lakers came into this weekend in a four-way tie for the coveted sixth spot with Miami, Michigan State and Alaska-Fairbanks, but lost serious ground Friday with the loss. With the RedHawks winning and the Spartans tying U-M, LSSU is now mired in a tie for eighth place with UAF. Lake Superior, however, has two games in hand on both Miami and Alaska-Fairbanks.