That will happen because of the split decision of a shootout win, 3-2, over visiting Western Michigan in Value City Arena. Though the 4,513 fans in attendance watched the Buckeyes pick up two CCHA points to move just one behind third-place Alaska in the league with four games in hand on the Nanooks, the result goes down as a 2-2 tie in the NCAA annals and for the PairWise rankings that determine postseason eligibility.
The Buckeyes sure seemed to have trouble processing the result. After goaltender Dustin Carlson denied WMU's Cam Watson to end the five-person shootout with OSU ahead 2-1, the crowd went nuts and the Buckeyes streamed off the ice to congratulate their goaltender for the two points earned.
Afterward, the team didn't seem nearly as pleased, as senior Corey Elkins described the mood in the locker room as unsatisfied.
"We get the CCHA points, which is good, but you know it doesn't count as a win nationally so it's disappointing," Elkins added.
Either way, the Buckeyes improve to 16-6-3 overall and 9-5-3-3 in league play. They are unbeaten in 13 straight games, going 11-0-2, and 10 home games in a row at 9-0-1. Despite earning the point to move to 6-13-6 and 3-9-5-1 in CCHA games, Western Michigan fell into last place by themselves.
Ohio State never trailed thanks to goals by Patrick Schafer and Ian Boots, tallies each offset in short order tie by top-liners Greg Squries and Patrick Galivan. Western Michigan goaltender Riley Gill backed up those goals with 35 saves and was often at the top of his game, especially in the third period. Elkins and John Albert scored in the shootout for Ohio State; Max Campbell had the Broncos' goal.
Despite never trailing and outshooting WMU by a 37-22 final margin, the Buckeyes never looked on the same page after a shortened week of practice caused by a late return from Ferris State last weekend.
"We can play better," head coach John Markell said. "From watching Western, they played the way we expected them to play. They didn't make it easy on us. I thought we weren't fighting hard enough for the pucks, doing little things, getting the pucks deep and that."
It would be hard to blame Markell for his reaction after Ohio State's third extra-time win in four games. Sluggish would be a good word to describe the team for long stretches; solid and extremely physical defensive play were offset by occasional mistakes and wayward passes and clears.
Even his team knew it wasn't the best effort they've ever put on the ice.
"We can play better," Markell said. "They know it. You can see it in their eyes. They already talked about it before I got in (the locker room)."
"I don't think we played to our potential by any means," Albert said in backing up his coach. "We should come out tomorrow with a little fire in us."
Albert's goal, piggybacking on Elkins' score that opened the competition, helped rescue the extra point for Ohio State. Elkins showed backhand to get Gill to commit down before flipping it over the goaltender, a move that Albert noticed when planning his score. It helped that intervening shooters Peter Boyd, Hunter Bishop and Sergio Somma all were denied with straight shots on the 6-2 Gill.
Albert made Gill move to his left with a deke, something the Buckeye sophomore took advantage of when he slipped the puck between Gill's legs.
"That's basically my go-to move in practice, so I figured I'd try it," Albert said. "He's a big goalie, so we had to get him moving side to side. Elkins did a great job of that and I saw that, so I moved from side to side, opened up his five-hole and slid it in."
Carlson denied Watson's forehand shot to end it. The sophomore goaltender, 14-3-2 on the year, wasn't bested by Squires or Galivan at the start of the shootout, but Campbell scored to the blocker to extend the shootout past its usual three skaters. Carlson, who made 22 saves in regulation, responded by turning aside Kyle O'Kane with the game on the line in the first sudden death round and then finishing the job on Watson.
It sure didn't look like the ending would come with such drama when Schafer scored 23 seconds into the game, tipping Corey Toy's point shot by Gill. But the Broncos replied at 6:15 when Squires tipped in Galivan's pass from the high slot.
The Buckeyes retook the lead on a 2-on-1 at the 16:02 mark of the second when Boots beat Gill clean to the blocker from in close on the left wing; Galivan's counter was swift 59 seconds later when he scored on a breakaway.
Great chances by Elkins bookended those goals. He hit the post on a 3-on-1 early in the period and nearly made SportsCenter with around 1:30 to go in the period, trying the famous Mike Legg lacrosse-style goal from behind the cage before the puck flew off of his stick at the last instant.
"I just figured I'd give it a try," he said of the goal that won Legg, who was suited up for Michigan at the time in 1996, an ESPY. "I think when I was coming around with it, it just came off of my stick."
The third period was entertaining. Carlson made a great power-play save on Galivan at the post and turned aside J.J. Crew after a turnover near the midpoint of the period, but Gill was the true star.
He went cross crease to stop Elkins' feed to Bishop four minutes into the period and followed that with two fantastic stops in the final five minutes. He made a save on his stomach to deny Albert and came back seconds later to stone Elkins five-hole as the Buckeye senior cut across the front of the crease.
Not helping Ohio State was the fact that leading goal scorer Zac Dalpe was not dressed because of a lower-body injury suffered the previous weekend. Markell countered by moving C.J. Severyn up to the top line and placing senior Nick Biondo in Severyn's usual spot as the fourth-line center. Neither line got on the scoreboard.
The Buckeyes finally made their chances count in the skills competition, but they wish the winning tally had come sooner.
"Scoring in the shootout is great, but it doesn't give us the win we want," Elkins said. "You'd love to get those back, but sometimes that's the way it goes."