Fighting archrival Miami (Ohio) to the wire, a spirited comeback put OSU down just 4-3 as time ticked down. However, heavy pressure couldn't get the equalizer when both Tom Fritsche and Sergio Somma fired wide within the final two minutes, letting the fifth-ranked RedHawks escape with the 4-3 win in each team's final regular season game.
Kyle Reed scored twice for OSU and Corey Toy had another to bring Ohio State (11-23-4, 7-18-3 Central Collegiate Hockey Association) within shouting distance, but Charlie Effinger made 26 saves and Miami dodged enough bullets on its Senior Night. However, the RedHawks, by virtue of Michigan's win over Ferris State, learned they will finish the season second in the CCHA at 21-6-1 and 29-6-1 overall. They did capture the Ohio Cup, awarded by BSB to the Ohio Division I hockey team that finishes with the best record in intrastate competition.
OSU battled back from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits to make a game of it in front of a packed house in Steve Cady Arena in Oxford.
"Obviously coming from a deficit of 3-0 in their rink, there's something to be said for how we fought back, but we still made mistakes that lost the game," head coach John Markell said.
Once Miami took its 3-0 lead through one period, Ohio State fought tooth and nail through the final 40 minutes, outshooting the RedHawks 26-11. Reed netted his first with 2:10 left in the second, putting in Peter Boyd's rebound while Effinger, a senior, was out of position from making the first stop.
"You have to keep going," Reed said. "The start of the game we were kind of running around all over the place just because the atmosphere in Miami is unreal, but to get that goal let the boys know to keep coming."
A slip and fall by Jason DeSantis, a senior defenseman who finished a woeful minus-4, early in the third led to Miami's fourth goal, as Nick Biondo couldn't clear the zone on the resulting 1-on-3 and Brian Kaufman scored into an open net on a pass from Miami captain Ryan Jones 2:45 into the third.
But it was all Ohio State from there. Two seconds after a Miami penalty ended, Reed got his ninth goal of the year, knocking down Kyle Hood's slap shot from the left point in the slot and turning the puck around Effinger. Then with 6:09 left, Toy feathered a shot through traffic from the left point and into the cage to make it 4-3.
A shorthanded 2-on-1 with seniors Fritsche and Tommy Goebel should have led to the Buckeyes' tying goal, but a sprawling Effinger did enough to force Fritsche's shot just wide of the mostly open target. Fritsche collected the rebound and flung it through the slot from south of the goal line, but he did not get the fortuitous deflection from traffic in front.
With OSU holding a 6-on-4 advantage over the final minute, Effinger stopped Somma's deflection with 49.3 seconds left, then watched as Somma's last-gasp effort with five seconds left flew high of the cage from the low slot.
"We had a 2-on-1 and it would have been nice to see it go in, and then he had another shot at it right after that," a dejected Markell said. "And then Sergio Somma – two guys that hopefully you can get some goals from."
Telling anyone that there would be final heart-stopping minutes would have been difficult considering Miami's first-period dominance. The RedHawks outshot OSU 13-3 through 20 minutes, kept the Buckeyes without a shot for more than 10 consecutive minutes and left the period ahead 3-0.
Buckeye nemesis Jarod Palmer scored just 2:21 into the game, fantastically deflecting Andy Miele's pass into the net from a very sharp angle. With 5:37 gone, Miele waltzed through the slot and beat OSU goaltender Joseph Palmer to the blocker. At 11:52, Davis slipped a breakaway goal through Palmer's pads. Both Davis and Miele finished the first period with a goal and two assists.
"I knew that we were going to come out with emotion," Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said. "Whether we'd execute or not, I had my doubts. Typically senior night, we come out with so much emotion it's almost too much,"
The OSU deficit would have been more had Palmer not been outstanding at times. He denied Jones, who entered with an NCAA-leading 29 goals, three times on breakaways. The Buckeye sophomore finished with 20 saves and helped turn the momentum with his steady play amid constant fire through the first 25 minutes.
"We responded well," OSU captain Matt McIlvane said. "We weren't able to pull the trigger on that last one to get the equalizer, but absolutely we're proud of the way we responded. Obviously we're not proud of our start."
The Buckeyes finish the season in 11th place in the 12-team CCHA but feel like they are playing well, even after Miami won Friday night and took a 2-1 decision in Value City Arena Tuesday night. OSU earned a win and a tie at No. 9 Notre Dame last weekend and felt that two one-goal losses to a team that has been No. 1 in the country most of the season didn't do much to derail some momentum.
"We just went toe to toe with one of the best teams in the nation the last two games," Markell said. "I'm proud of our guys, but we obviously have some things to work on."
OSU's first-round playoff opponent is unclear, but their March 7-9 best-of-three series will be on the road at either Bowling Green, Ferris State or Northern Michigan.