The Buckeyes needed only one win this weekend against visiting Ferris State to clinch a top-eight finish and a home series, but they didn't get it Thursday night. The Buckeyes and Bulldogs played to a 2-2 tie, after which Ferris State won the shootout for the extra league point, keeping OSU in ninth place and leaving their playoff fate up in the air for another night.
Ohio State had an ugly second period and faced a 2-1 deficit in the third, but senior Sergio Somma's team-leading 18th goal in the third forced the teams to split the points despite Ferris State's fairly earned 36-23 advantage in shots on goal.
"I don't think we played too strong of a game," Somma said. "It's hard to put a finger on what happened and why we didn't play too well, but we can't sit here and dwell on it. We have to move on tomorrow. We have to win tomorrow."
Somma is right. With a victory, Ohio State – which no longer earn a first-round playoff bye – will for sure clinch a home-ice series in the opening round. With a loss, OSU will be consigned to hitting the road, and a shootout would bring into play a number of tiebreakers and leave the Buckeyes' fate up to other results.
The next 24 hours will likely include a lot of soul searching after Thursday night's effort.
"I didn't think we practiced well this week," head coach Mark Osiecki said. "We did not practice well on Tuesday and Wednesday, and for me, I feel that I should have put my foot down. I didn't because I think we're a fragile team. But I feel that we didn't practice well on Tuesday and Wednesday, and it carried over into today."
Shane Sims also scored for the Buckeyes (15-15-4, 10-13-4-2) while junior goaltender Cal Heeter was a rock yet again. Heeter stopped 34 shots, including 20 during a second period in which the visitors outshot OSU by a 21-3 count.
That came after a first period in which Ohio State looked the better team. The Buckeyes had the shot advantage, 10-7, and took a 1-0 lead into the break after Sims tallied at 10:39. Chris Crane blocked a shot in the defensive zone, carried the puck 100 feet along the left-hand wall, waited patiently and then teed up Sims in the slot for an easy finish past Pat Nagle's glove.
"I thought we were in survival mode in the first period," Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels said. "I'm actually somewhat disappointed in our own team that we didn't come out with more fire. This game was pretty important to both teams and I thought you couldn't tell from the way we performed in the first.
"I thought we had a better second period. For whatever reason we just seemed to be more in tune and we were playing with some energy and we were skating better."
As Daniels alluded to, the second period was all Bulldogs. Heeter made a number of big stops, and he didn't have much chance on the one goal, which came at 10:59. OSU's John Albert backchecked to take away an opportunity for Travis Ouellette in the slot, but the puck kicked to Eric Alexander at the left post to put past Heeter.
Heeter didn't have much help, either, as Ferris State took a 2-1 lead at 2:38 of the third on the power play. Aaron Schmit skated in along the left, stopped on the doorstep unmolested and scored short-side with Heeter starting to move across the crease.
But just as it looked like Ferris State was asserting control, Nagle made a critical turnover. Coming out to play the puck, he fired a clearing attempt right into Somma, who quickly collected and scored from the left circle at 3:54.
Owing to the short week and the odd Thursday night game schedule, the rest of the third period wasn't great hockey, but it was enthralling as the teams went back and forth, each putting seven shots on goal in the frame.
"I thought we were reeling in the second period," Osiecki said. "They turned it up a notch. They played well, I thought. Our guys responded in the third and played better in the third, had some good looks at the net and their goaltender played very well."
Overtime was exciting, too. Heeter stopped Mike Fillinger in the slot, then Nagle snapped a pad on Somma's deflection from in tight and Kyle Bonis dove to break up a good chance for OSU's Peter Boyd.
In the shootout, Chad Billins scored glove side for the Bulldogs with their first shot, while Nagle – who had 21 saves in regulation – stopped Boyd, Danny Dries and Somma.
"The third period and OT could have gone either way," Daniels said. "I thought that was pretty even, so overall in the course of a game, I'd say that 2-2 final was the right result and then shootouts are shootouts."
Only 1,926 were in attendance for Ohio State's first Thursday night game of the year. The Buckeyes and Bulldogs rematch with OSU's playoff fate in the balance Friday night at 7 p.m. in Value City Arena.
Ferris State moved up to fifth place in the CCHA with 40 points.