COLUMBUS, Ohio — Sometimes the best thing about a an uneven game is an even number. In Minnesota’s 7-2 win over Ohio State, the magic number was four: four power-play goals, four unanswered second-period goals, and the play of No. 4, Erik Johnson.
“With a team of that skill — all the way out from the goaltender — they’ll expose you on every mistake you make, and you saw that tonight,” said OSU head coach John Markell, whose Buckeyes were schooled in a variety of numbers.
Five freshmen found the net, including Jay Barriball, whose first-period power-play goal was his fifth tally of the season, and Johnson, who scored his much-anticipated first collegiate goal.
“He looked more comfortable, a little more relaxed, and maybe sometimes it’s easier when you have the high expectations to go on the road,” said Minnesota head coach Don Lucia of star rookie Johnson, the No. 1 pick in this year’s NHL entry draft. “He wasn’t the only one. A lot of guys played relaxed, especially the young ones, and that was all good to see.”
Barriball and Johnson each had a goal and an assist, with each connecting on the other’s markers. Classmate Mike Carmen led all Golden Gophers in scoring with a goal and two assists, and senior Kellen Briggs made 19 saves as Minnesota outshot Ohio State 43-21.
“It’s a good team win tonight for Kellen,” said Lucia. “I thought everybody did their job tonight. We moved the puck and made some nice plays.
“We probably took advantage of a young goaltender, a 17-year-old kid playing his first game tonight. Naturally, you’re going to be a little bit more nervous, let a few rebounds out there that you’re not going to do as you gain more experience.”
In his Division I debut, OSU freshman goaltender Nick Filion made 36 saves and battled through two extended five-on-three Minnesota advantages with little help from a veteran Buckeye defense. Buckeye captain defenseman Sean Collins said that the Bucks will have to make some adjustments to help their Filion and Joseph Palmer, also a rookie between the OSU pipes.
“We need to do a better job of boxing out in front of the net, of clearing out rebounds,” said Collins. “They’re doing a pretty good job of making the first saves. We’ve got to make sure that we’re clearing guys out in front of the net. I think we were focused on blocking shots as opposed to tying guys up.”
The Gophers came prepared to play, took a 2-1 lead after one on Barriball’s and Johnson’s power-play goals, and never looked back. At 9:00 in the first, Johnson fed Barriball near the crease from the far side of the right circle, and Barriball finished the play by going five-hole on Filion.
At 12:16, Barriball worked the puck out from the left corner and out to Blake Wheeler, who centered to Johnson at the top of the slot; Johnson’s shot beat Filion over the goalie’s extended right leg, clean to the back of the net.
“It’s taken me a little bit to get going here, and that’s kind of how I’ve always been,” said Johnson. “Once I get a few games under my belt, I tend to loosen up and I think this was my best game.”
Lucia called Barriball “a power-play type guy” who plays “fearless.”
“He’s really come in and done a nice job and contributed. Erik’s pass to him on that first goal was a tremendous play on his part. Those are the kinds of goals that are fun to see.”
Buckeye Zach Pelletier tipped in Jason DeSantis’s shot at 13:35 to cut the Gopher lead in half, but even with the score 2-1 at the end of one, the game never felt that close.
Minnesota exploded with four second-period goals to make it 6-2 after two, with Carmen, Alex Goligoski, and Ryan Stoa scoring even strength — and Goligoski’s and Stoa’s goals coming less than a minute apart — and Kyle Okposo capitalizing on a two-man Gopher advantage, the end result of seemingly endless shots on Filion, who made four saves on the series before finally succumbing.
Buckeye Mathieu Beaudoin scored his fourth of the season at 3:56 in the third, but Gopher Ryan Flynn made it a five-goal game again at 13:48 with Minnesota’s fourth power-play goal of the night.
“They’ve got some special players there and I thought they played well as a team,” said Markell. “They moved up and down the ice as five men and every time you make a mistake, it’s obviously an opportunity for them. That can be discouraging, but you have to learn from it.
“You’ve got to give credit where credit is due. Their forwards are big and powerful…and they move with speed.”
Although the win looked easy for Minnesota, Lucia said that with a team that had nine freshmen on the roster, Saturday’s rematch is by no means a sure thing.
“That’s the first thing we talked about after the game. Palmer will come in, he’s a very good goaltender, he’s played the college schedule. It’s going to be a tighter game tomorrow. There are a lot of positives, but there are a few things we want to continue to work on to get better.
“We have to come back and play assertive, we have to come back and play physical and make smart plays with the puck like we did tonight, because that’s how you win games. Tomorrow’s a whole new game. Ohio State’s going to come back, and I know how they’re going to come back and play after the game tonight. They’re going to play hard, they’re going to play physical, and they’re going to make it miserable for us.”
Minnesota (3-1-0) and Ohio State (1-2-0) drop the puck at 8:05 p.m. Saturday night in Value City Arena.
“We’re going to have to find some way to slow them down, be a little more patient in the corners, make sure they don’t roll us to the front of the net, and stay out of the box,” said Markell. “You don’t give a team like that those kind of opportunities.”