“It’s on to the next one,” junior co-captain Sam Jardine said after the Buckeyes downed Penn State, 3-1, to begin the six-team tourney. “The football team, they had their line, ‘Won, not done,’ and that’s kind of the way we’re approaching it as well.”
The fifth-seeded Buckeyes had little trouble with a banged up Penn State squad, never trailing in the game. Nick Schilkey, Justin DaSilva and David Gust scored and goalie Christian Frey made 31 saves for a Buckeye team that showed up expecting to do well.
Ohio State was just 13-18-3 in the regular season, but they went 6-3-1 in their last 10 conference games. Add in a run to last year’s Big Ten final before a heartbreaking OT loss to Wisconsin and the Buckeyes entered feeling they had what it took to succeed in the postseason.
“This is kind of what we were expecting right now,” Schilkey said. “We planned on the beginning of the year, no matter what happens throughout we have to play our best hockey right now, and that's what the coaches prepared us for. We always have to believe in that, and turns out that's what we're doing.”
Schilkey helped set the Buckeyes off on the right foot, potting his 10th goal of the year 8:01 into the game on OSU’s first shot of the game. A clearing attempt by Penn State hit the linesman and went to Gust at the blue line, who quickly turned and fed Schilkey in for a breakaway. Penn State goalie Eamon McAdam went for the poke check and Schilkey, a native of Marysville, Mich., who grew up having played in Joe Louis Arena, made no mistake hitting it by the blocker.
“As far as I can remember, I don't think I've scored here before,” he said. “We had a good bounce there early and between me yelling through the middle and Dave's eyes in the back of his head, they found me and I just came down. Looked up and nobody in front of me and I just went down and (he) put out a little blocker and I got lucky there.”
The advantage was 2-0 shortly thereafter as Ohio State scored in transition at 14:13. A shot block by senior Matt Johnson led to an odd-man rush in which senior co-captain Tanner Fritz dropped the puck for DaSilva, who ripped a shot from just across the line into the top corner.
It was the fifth time in the last seven games the Buckeyes got a goal from a defenseman, and DaSilva tallied Feb. 28 in a win vs. Penn State.
“I think the blue line is playing with confidence,” said the senior DaSilva. “We're stressing to hold the puck more and that brings more confidence. And then had our forwards moving at lower high and getting us the puck quick so that we can get shots on that.”
Penn State drew one back when senior Max Gardiner roofed a shot over Frey’s blocker at 9:38 of the second, but the backbreaker for the Buckeyes came with exactly a minute left in the period. Jardine looked up and spied Gust behind the defense coming off the bench and hit him perfectly, and Gust patiently skated in alone, drew McAdam down and put a backhander over his blocker.
From there, Penn State (18-15-4) didn’t have the legs or the health to mount a comeback with a number of injured players, including top assist man Taylor Holstrom, forward Curtis Loik and defenseman Mike Williamson.
Penn State – which had erased a 4-0 third-period deficit on OSU in January in Hockey Valley before falling in OT – entered the game leading the NCAA with nearly 40 shots per game, but OSU kept the Nittany Lions to 32 on the day.
“We have a pretty significant part of our offense that was really struggling to play, a couple of our players, and I don't think we had the speed that we normally have to jump on pucks and try to get second and third chances,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowski said. “I think they did a really good job of keeping us away from second and third chances. Credit their D – It's a total team effort by them, but they did a very good job at that. We weren't able to really generate much.”
In fact, Penn State’s best chance might have been just four minutes into the game when Eric Scheid picked the pocket of Fritz and had a 120-foot breakaway, but his nifty move to slide the puck between Frey’s pads was swallowed by the OSU netminder, who admitted he wasn’t sure he had the puck at first.
“I got a little lucky on it, I think, but I’ll take it,” the sophomore goalie admitted. “I had no idea (where it was). I knew it was under me somewhere, but I was just hoping it wasn’t in the back of the net.”
The road doesn’t get any easier here for the Buckeyes, who now must play top-seeded Minnesota – the league regular-season champ – in the semifinals Friday afternoon at 4:30 at The Joe (BTN).
“We're going to have to play our best game of the year,” OSU head coach Steve Rohlik said. “Certainly we're playing the best team in the league. They came down to stretch time and they won the league and they deserve that. They're very skilled from the goaltending on out, and they've got some pretty special players there, so time and space is a big thing. We've just got to stick with our blueprint.”
The Buckeyes know they can beat the Golden Gophers, as they did so a year ago in the semifinals when Minnesota was ranked No. 1 in the nation and also did so on Senior Night in Columbus two weeks ago.
After all, it’s won, not done for the Buckeyes.
Notes: There were no penalties in the game. … Gust had his first two-point game of the year. … Senior defenseman Clark Cristofoli had an assist for the third time in four games. He had two points, including his only career goal, last year vs. the Badgers in the Big Ten title game. … OSU was without senior forward Nick Oddo (upper body injury).