And just 23 seconds into the game, the Fighting Irish had a chance to get one when Ben Ryan was left alone in the slot with the puck. The center fired point-blank – and was denied by Ohio State goaltender Dustin Carlson.
"That was a big save," OSU head coach John Markell said. "We've been giving up a few goals right away in the first five minutes, and obviously to score on the first shift would have been hard on us, especially in light of what happened on Friday."
But Carlson's resistance was a microcosm of what the Buckeyes (17-9-3, 11-8-3-3) were able to muster in response against the first-place Fighting Irish. OSU later shook off a Notre Dame goal with four unanswered tallies of their own to put away the Irish 4-1 in front of a vocal crowd of 6,031.
With conference and national positioning at stake, the Buckeyes came up with their biggest win of the season.
"I think it was a must-win," said freshman Zac Dalpe, who had three assists. "We had to get points."
With the win, Ohio State moved into a fourth-place tie in the CCHA with Alaska and moved two points clear of fifth-place Nebraska-Omaha, and the Buckeyes still have six league games left as opposed to just four for the Nanooks and Mavericks.
In the national picture, the Buckeyes moved up from 17th in the PairWise rankings to 12th – the equivalent of moving from the wrong side of the bubble to the right side in the rankings that determine NCAA tournament eligibility.
The Buckeyes weren't perfect but limited Notre Dame (21-4-3, 15-3-3-3), which was missing two top players that were injured Friday night in Ryan Thang and Christian Hanson. Carlson was fantastic, stopping 32 shots in one of his best performances of the year, and the top line of Dalpe, John Albert and Taylor Stefishen combined for two goals and eight points.
"When you have three guys on the line that can move the puck like we do, I think it's pretty deadly," Albert said.
That top line answered Notre Dame's only goal, a power-play tally at 7:44 of the second period earned when Christiaan Minella put in his own rebound after some nifty tic-tac-toe passing, with its own score 39 seconds later to get the Buckeyes off and running.
On a 2-on-2 break, Stefishen threw the puck on net from the left side. Notre Dame goalie Jordan Pearce stopped the shot with ease but Dalpe found the rebound at the left post and flung it toward the right side, where Albert was able to collect and slide it into the vacated net.
"We wanted to send a message to the team that we're not here to be taken advantage of," Dalpe said. "They had a nice goal but we responded, and that's what we do as a team."
The rest of the second was fraught with twists and turns – Notre Dame had great chances only to be turned aside by Carlson, who particularly had Kevin Deeth's number – until the Buckeyes closed strong.
Ohio State took the lead for good at 17:00 on the power play when Shane Sims beat Pearce from the top of the zone on a pass from Albert. At 18:35, the Stefishen made it 3-1, taking the rebound of Dalpe's shot off a faceoff win and putting his second effort behind Pearce, who made 26 saves.
"I thought in the second period we gave them life," Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson said. "After we scored the power-play goal the shift after they responded right away, so you have to give them a lot of credit for that. And then they beat us on a faceoff goal, which really in my opinion is not a good goal from our perspective."
Notre Dame outshot the Buckeyes 10-7 in the third but didn't threaten much outside of a Deeth shot from the slot that Carlson stoned 3:25 into the period and a short, 19-second 5-on-3 near the 13-minute mark.
"I thought Dusty Carlson played a good game," Markell said. "I thought he was the backbone of that win, and I think the guys got back on plan."
Despite the crucial win, the Buckeyes still were not able to kindly look back upon Friday night's 4-3 loss that included allowing the game-tying goal with one second to go in the third period. With today's result, Ohio State was one second away from sweeping the No. 2 team in the country.
"I'm still really upset about Friday," Albert said. "I think a lot of the guys in the locker room are. It's always good to have a sweep. One against the No. 2 team in the country would have been unbelievable. But we lost the game. We shouldn't think about it but it's hard not to."
The Buckeyes are back on the road next weekend with two games at Michigan State.