COLUMBUS, Ohio — Backstopped by Joseph Palmer’s 30-save performance, the Buckeyes earned a 4-1 win over the Wildcats to sweep the weekend with their first four-point home performance of the year and settle into an uncomfortable tie for fifth place in the CCHA standings with their next opponent, Nebraska-Omaha.
“In the third, I thought Joe Palmer came to play,” said Ohio State head coach John Markell. “He made some tremendous saves. If they would have gotten one, who knows, the way they were controlling the puck down low. We survived it.”
Andrew Schembri had a goal and an assist to lead the Buckeyes in scoring, Tommy Goebel earned his 11th marker of the year, Sam Campbell his second, and John Dingle picked up the empty-net, power-play goal, his first goal since November.
Zach Tarkir had the lone tally for Northern Michigan, and Bill Zaniboni made 30 saves himself in a contest that had all the intensity of playoff hockey.
“It was a tough game,” said Markell. “It was tough hockey. There was a lot of grinding hockey. That’s the way they play the game, they control the boards very, very well, but we took care of our opportunities [with] good goaltending, and we ended up with two more points.”
“I thought we played well,” said NMU head coach Walt Kyle. “I thought we had a ton of good chances, especially after the first. It’s a 3-1 game. We were there. We just didn’t score on some opportunities. A couple of chances we missed, and the big kid [Palmer] played good — late. Early, they took the play from us.”
The Buckeyes outshot the Wildcats 9-2 in the first and outscored them 1-0 on Schembri’s seventh goal of the year, a power-play shot from the left circle on a feed from the OSU zone by Corey Elkins.
Shots were even in the second, but the Bucks still outscored the ‘Cats 1-0, on a fluky goal 24 seconds into the frame when Goebel capitalized on a bad decision by Zaniboni give the Bucks a two-goal lead. Goebel initially skated the puck back behind the NMU net and up along the right boards before feeding Sean Collins high in the slot. Collins ripped one that went wide left and took a monster bounce back out between the circles.
Zaniboni turned to see the shot hit the dashers, but instead of positioning himself immediately in the net, he hesitated and spun around, putting his back to the play in front of the crease. It was enough time for Goebel to fire the puck past the ill-positioned goaltender for his 11th marker of the season.
Kyle called an immediate time out, during which he pointed from Zaniboni to back-up goaltender Brian Stewart.
“I didn’t like the goal,” said Kyle. “It was kind of a sloppy — it took forward bounce off the end boards. It was one of those deals when we were down 2-0 and at that point…we were still in the game. I didn’t want us to get rattled. We have a tendency to do that. We’re young and make mistakes, and I wanted us to settle down.”
It was in the third period when Palmer preserved the Buckeye lead, especially after Campbell’s goal from Schembri at 2:39 made it 3-0 Ohio State. NMU outshot OSU 18-14 in the third, and that hard work resulting in Tarkir’s power-play blast from the right point at 5:01 — but ultimately, in spite of third-period power-play opportunities, that was all.
“That’s us. Absolutely that’s us,” said Kyle. “I think we’ve had maybe four nights…when we’ve scored a third goal. We don’t score very much.”
The Buckeyes finished 2-for-7 on the power play in the game and 4-for-16 on the weekend. The Wildcats were 1-4 with the man advantage tonight and scoreless Friday.
The series marked the end of the regular-season games between the clustered teams, with Ohio State coming out 3-1 in the four contests. The teams split in Marquette Oct. 27-28.
“I thought Northern came in here a much different team than what we played up there,” said Markell. “I thought the guys battled hard. Maybe got away from us in the second period as they were putting pressure on us.”
The series also marked the third-ever trip to the Schottenstein Center for the Wildcats, who have never won in the venue. In their six games against the Buckeyes at the Schott, the Wildcats have scored a total of five goals.
“Buildings don’t beat you, teams do,” said Kyle. “It’s a different team every year.”
Northern Michigan (12-20-2, 9-16-1 CCHA) is off next weekend, while Ohio State (12-13-5, 10-10-4 CCHA) travels to Omaha to play the Mavericks in the old Civic Auditorium.