Only a win that counts in the standings will soothe what has turned into a five-game winless streak.
Friday night, No. 5 Ohio State fought back from a 4-0 deficit but couldn't tie it in the last few minutes, dropping a 4-3 final to No. 13 Ferris State in front of 2,876 in Value City Arena.
"I'll try to take the positives out of it, but there weren't too many," downcast co-captain Sean Duddy said afterward. "We try to learn from what we can. We didn't quit, and that's a good thing. But there's not too many positives."
Tanner Fritz, Chris Crane and Darik Angeli scored for Ohio State in the comeback, but it wasn't enough to prevent the Buckeyes from falling to 0-3-2 in Central Collegiate Hockey Association contests in the calendar year.
The Buckeyes (14-7-3, 10-6-3-1) stayed atop the CCHA thanks to second-place Western Michigan's loss at Miami, but it felt like the win was there for the taking after Angeli brought the team within one goal with 7:14 to play.
Ohio State couldn't finish the job, though, as the team wasted 5:02 of power-play time in that span to allow the Bulldogs (15-8-2, 9-6-2-0) to hold on. On the whole, Ohio State finished 1 for 8 on the power play while allowing three man-up goals to the Bulldogs. OSU also gave up a 5-on-3 goal but couldn't score on 1:51 of its own two-man advantage time in the late going.
"We say it all the time, it's a battle of special teams," head coach Mark Osiecki said.
The Buckeyes started the contest looking like the hangover from Sunday's loss in the outdoor Frozen Diamond Faceoff to Michigan hadn't gone away. Ferris State needed just 27 minutes to build its 4-0 lead and chase junior goaltender Brady Hjelle, who made 17 saves on 21 shots in his fourth start of the year before being pulled for senior Cal Heeter.
"The disappointing part for us is we were trying to be smart this week after a rough weekend," Osiecki said of resting his team during the week. "We were trying to be smart, give them some time off mentally and physically, and unfortunately we didn't respond very well to that."
There wasn't much good to say about the start, including a first period in which Ohio State was outshot 14-6 and earned its fourth 2-0 deficit in five games.
"It starts at the top," Duddy said of the slow starts. "Me and (co-captain Cory Schneider) have to do a better job of getting guys going. We have to figure it out. We'll talk and we will figure it out, I'm sure of that."
Jordie Johnston started the run, netting his team-best 14th goal 6:23 into the game when he put a power-play rebound into the net behind Hjelle. Ferris State doubled the lead at 15:19, as an OSU turnover in the neutral zone quickly went the other way and Kyle Bonis finished sublimely over Hjelle's glove with a backhander after rushing in on the left wing.
Ferris State increased the lead in the second as the Buckeyes took four consecutive penalties in the opening 8:44 of the frame. Eric Alexander scored first, finishing a beautiful rush from in front after a pass from Derek Graham at 4:14, then captain Chad Billins slapped one through Hjelle's legs from the right circle at 7:00 while the visitors held a two-man advantage.
That was it for Hjelle, and Heeter was greeted with a breakaway by Garrett Thompson that he turned aside just seconds into his tenure.
From there, it seemed like Ferris State's unbeaten streak would surely move to five, but Ohio State started to get some life at 13:20 of the second on Fritz's goal, which was a redirection at the left post after Angeli used some nifty stickwork to create some room for himself on the right wing.
Ohio State dominated the third period, outshooting the Bulldogs by a 13-2 margin, but the fightback didn't really start until Crane earned his team-high 14th goal at 10:09 when he deflected Justin DaSilva's shot from the left point past goalie Taylor Nelson.
Things really got interesting at 12:39 when Alexander got a game disqualification and five-minute major for contact to the head when he hit Crane in open ice in the OSU offensive zone. Just seven seconds later, Angeli drove an absolute rocket from the left-wing boards past Nelson and into the net to make it 4-3.
But Ohio State didn't register an official shot on goal in the next 5:02 of power-play time, including a two-man advantage of 1:51 after Jason Binkley took a penalty for hooking Max McCormick on a breakaway chance with 4:12 to go.
"Guys were trying to force plays a bit," Duddy said. "We drew up a certain thing, and we weren't doing a very good job of executing it. Once again, it comes back to the older guys settling everyone down and making sure we were making the right plays, and we didn't do that."
Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels was happy to see his team hold on.
"We were sleepwalking," Daniels said of his team's play early in the third period. "We don't have a lot of practice with four- and three-goal leads, and that was very evident tonight. It wasn't until they scored right away on the five-minute power play, and then it's almost like the 5-on-3 brought a sense of urgency back to our game."
The teams will rematch Saturday night at 7:05 p.m. in Value City Arena.
Ferris State entered at just 13.7 percent (10-73) on the power play in CCHA games. … Freshman Ryan Dzingel, the team's third-leading scorer, returned to the OSU lineup after missing Sunday's game for a disciplinary matter. … Defenseman Curtis Gedig, who missed the Sunday game because of injury, also returned. … Nelson finished with 30 saves while improving to 11-4-1. … Alexander had a goal and an assist but will be suspended from Saturday's game as a result of his game DQ.