COLUMBUS, Ohio — Apparently, the 10th time is the charm.
The Northern Michigan Wildcats played their 10th game in Columbus since rejoining the CCHA and earned their first win in Ohio’s capital city when it counted, beating Ohio State in overtime, 3-2, to force a third game in this best-of-three CCHA first-round playoff series.
Dusty Collins had the game-winner from Mike Santorelli at 3:15 in overtime, and Wildcat goaltender Brian Stewart played a career game, stopping 42 shots in his second win of the season.
“We played hard, and we obviously got some goaltending, and we caught some breaks,” said NMU head coach Walt Kyle.
Breaks like Stewart’s save on Sean Collins’ shot from the slot at 7:27 in the second, just after the Buckeyes had tied the score 2-2.
Breaks like Stewart’s miraculous move that saved another go-ahead goal on an OSU two-on-one at 10:30, when Matt McIlvane drew Stewart right and then passed across the slot left to Bryce Anderson, who would have scored on a near-empty net had not Stewart dived across the goalmouth and extended his 6-foot-4 frame to make what could have been a game-saving grab.
“We had enough opportunities to win that game,” said OSU head coach John Markell. “You’ve got to give credit where credit is due. The kid came in and played a great game. We had some glorious scoring opportunities and they didn’t go in the net.”
Stewart came in at 7:36 in Friday’s 6-2 OSU win, replacing Bill Zaniboni after the starter had allowed three Buckeye goals.
“I didn’t like Billy last night, and I pulled him, and he struggled the last time we played Ohio State,” said Kyle. “He didn’t play well then. I went with Stewie … and we’ll see him tomorrow.”
As plodding and lopsided as Friday’s 6-2 contest was, this game was fast, with end-to-end action, outstanding goaltending, and the desperation one would expect from playoff action.
The first nine minutes of the first period belonged to Northern Michigan, and most specifically to Darin Olver, who made up for losing two-and-a-half minutes of a ice time because of a penalty miscue, with two goals within two minutes.
Olver scored toward the end of the first Wildcat power play, at 7:21, to give NMU the early 1-0 lead. The play began with Olver winning the faceoff in the left circle and dropping the puck back to T.J. Miller in the neutral zone. He passed from left to right across to Zach Tarkir, and Olver took the puck from Tarkir at the blue line, walked in, split the OSU defense, shot and scored, beating OSU netminder Joseph Palmer on the glove side.
At 8:50, Olver netted his 13th of the season on a scramble in front of the OSU net. That play began when Tarkir kept the puck in the OSU zone and gave it to Olver, whose shot Palmer stopped. The puck came back to Matt Siddall, who passed to Pat Bateman in the circle. Bateman shot, and again Palmer made the save.
The puck came to Siddall again, and Palmer saved yet another shot but couldn’t smother the puck, which dropped from his chest to the ice … right to Olver, who backhanded it home for the 2-0 NMU lead.
It took less than a minute for the Buckeyes to respond, as Kenny Bernard drew OSU within one at 9:44 by picking up Mathieu Beaudoin’s rebound for his seventh goal of the year.
John Dingle had his second of the series when he tied it up at 7:02 in the second, scoring just as he came off the OSU bench on a shift change.
After Dingle’s goal, the second period was all Stewart, as the Buckeyes outshot the Wildcats 18-6 in the stanza. NMU came out with renewed intensity in the third, dominating play in the OSU zone by cycling low and owning play along the boards and outshooting the Buckeyes 12-10.
It was momentum that carried into overtime and led to Collins’ goal. From the left circle, Santorelli centered a pass to Collins, who wasted no time shooting the puck and beating Palmer, five-hole, for NMU’s first win in Columbus since 1981.
“We’ve got to somehow suck it up, regroup, deal with a little bit of adversity, and come back hard tomorrow night,” said Markell. “If we play like we did tonight, and create the opportunities we did tonight, it could be a completely different story.
“I give them credit. They came in here and got a good jump on us [with] a couple goals, and a couple mistakes by us, but we had plenty of opportunities to be in that game, if not be ahead.”
The Wildcats (14-22-2) and the Buckeyes (15-16-5) face off at 7 p.m. Sunday for the deciding game in the OSU Ice Arena, and Kyle said that the’Cats will need all the intensity and desperation they displayed in Saturday’s third period and overtime.
“We’ve got a big job to do here tomorrow, but we need to play with that if we’re going to do anything.”