"It felt like a monkey off our back for everybody," senior Sergio Somma said.
Certainly, it did. Ohio State had scored only three goals in its previous four contests, but Somma's tally kicked off what turned into a 4-2 win for the Buckeyes, who snapped a four-game losing streak.
Somma finished with two goals and fellow senior John Albert tied a career high with four assists, while C.J. Severyn and Cory Schneider also scored for Ohio State. The Buckeyes improved to 14-13-2 (9-11-12-2) and moved up to seventh place in the CCHA.
"I thought tonight was a redemption game for our team," head coach Mark Osiecki said. "You have to play desperate. I thought our guys moved their feet and I thought they didn't miss too many opportunities to hit somebody. I think it's fun to watch and I think it's fun for our fans to watch."
There was a little bit of everything for the 4,807 in attendance in Value City Arena. This contest was much more open, back-and-forth and physical – in a word, entertaining – than Michigan State's 2-0 win in the opener Friday night.
While Ohio State was unable to get on the scoreboard in that one, Osiecki and the Buckeyes didn't feel they played poorly – especially on the defensive end. As a result, Saturday night's game was as much about not letting frustration set in as anything else, and Osiecki said his team answered the bell.
"(We were) fragile, probably, because all of a sudden you're working your rear ends off, they're doing everything you ask, you're not scoring goals, and that's just the way hockey is," he said. "If you're not scoring some goals then all of a sudden you're squeezing (the stick) a little bit, you're playing a little bit different, and maybe you get a little individual.
"That's one thing we tried to stress – let's not get away from a team concept as a group of five. I think our guys for the most part did a great job with that here."
Ohio State outshot the 10th-place Spartans (12-14-4, 8-12-2-0) in all three periods and 39-28 for the game, but MSU took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission on Dean Chelios' easy goal at 5:55 after OSU goaltender Cal Heeter was felled by Sean Duddy upon playing the puck behind the net.
The Buckeyes' senior class took over from there. Somma got the opening tally just 1:50 into the second – and as with most streak snappers, it took a good bounce to light the lamp.
Albert's shot from the right point went off the stick of MSU's Derek Grant and bounded toward the slot, where Somma took a backhanded swipe that sent the puck over Will Yanakeff's blocker. The stuffed animals immediately came over the glass, a fitting tribute to an elusive goal – OSU's first power-play tally in four games.
"Like I said yesterday, one lucky bounce and you don't know what can happen," Albert said. "We got that lucky bounce, we got a goal and it gave us momentum."
Ohio State took the lead minutes later at 4:30 after Severyn – who Osiecki said played one of his best games of 2011 – stole the puck while shorthanded to start a 2-on-2 rush up the ice. Albert took Severyn's drop pass and skated in on the right before returning a pass that Severyn directed past Yanakeff's blocker to make it 2-1.
Scoring chances and scrambles abounded but with no impact on the scoreboard until Ohio State justly got another goal to make it 3-1 at 4:05 of the third. The top line of Albert, Somma and Peter Boyd pressured throughout an entire shift and even earned a delayed penalty call before Albert passed out from the back wall and Somma scored five-hole from low on the left.
"It was a great play," Somma said. "It's what you work on in practice, working down low."
Dustin Gazely got one back at 7:29 after two OSU players collided in the neutral zone, sending the MSU senior in alone before he turned Heeter around with a magnificent breakaway move.
Somma had a few chances for the hat trick but couldn't convert, setting up a tense final few minutes. Heeter stopped Chelios with 2:30 left from close range after the Buckeyes took bench minor for too many men on the ice, and the last minute was a scramble with the MSU net empty until Schneider tucked the puck home from his backside with 2.2 seconds to play.
Yanakeff fell to 5-2-1 but had 35 saves. … Michigan State was 0 for 5 on the power play, while OSU was 1 for 6 with 14 shots. … Danny Dries returned for Ohio State after missing one game for a violation of team rules. … Somma pulled out of a tie with Dries for the team lead in goals. His two on the night gave him 15, which tied a career high. … Albert previously had four assists on Jan. 8, 2010, vs. Bowling Green. … OSU is next on the ice Friday and Saturday at Michigan, with both games on the Big Ten Network.