"I put them in a circle and they challenged themselves today," head coach John Markell. "I stood on the outside. It's about them. It's about team at this time of the year. They had some frank discussions."
Whatever was said helped. The 16th-ranked Buckeyes came back from a 2-0 deficit with three unanswered goals – the last scored with some controversy by C.J. Severyn with 4:20 to play – to defeat the third-ranked Wolverines 3-2 in front of 8,390 in Value City Arena.
The win kept alive Ohio State's NCAA tournament hopes as well as its quest to take fourth place in the CCHA. The team in that spot, Alaska, won in overtime on Saturday night to stay three points ahead of the Buckeyes for the final spot that receives a first-round playoff bye. Ohio State goes to face No. 5 Miami next weekend as Alaska is off from conference play.
The enormity of the upcoming task against the rival RedHawks was not the focus Saturday night after the win against the Wolverines (24-10-0, 18-7-0-0), who lost for just the second time in 11 games and saw their hopes of a CCHA regular-season title vanquished when Notre Dame clinched the league earlier in the day.
"We were embarrassed as a team last night with the show we put on for our fans and ourselves so we were glad we bounced back and got two points tonight," OSU forward Sergio Somma said.
Somma should get some of the credit for the performance, at least to Markell. The sophomore was one of the key players in the team's pregame meeting and was honored as such by being elevated to a role as an alternate captain complete with a new "A" sewn onto his sweater.
"We had to be men about it," he said about the team meeting. "We sat in a little circle and looked each other in the eye and got everything that needed to be addressed out. We challenged each other and obviously that helped out."
The Buckeyes (19-11-4, 11-10-4-3) were outshot 37-25 on the night, including 16-5 in the third period, but did look much better than they had the night before. The spirit had returned even if the Buckeyes still struggled with Michigan's solid and at times oppressive game.
Also back were the team's forwards, who scored all three goals in the persons of Severyn, Corey Elkins and John Albert after getting just one score over the past three games. Markell's request for greasy goals was granted; two of the three goals required video review to see who scored because of massive scrums near the goal mouth.
The winner was one of those, originally going from Severyn's seventh of the year to freshman Zac Dalpe's 14th back to a score for Severyn. Michigan goaltender Bryan Hogan got a piece of Dalpe's shot from the slot but the puck tricked through the crease to near the goal line, where Severyn and Scooter Vaughan went after it. As the two cut across the crease the puck went into the net, sparking indignant protests from Michigan players that weren't upheld upon review by the on-ice officials.
Originally, the goal went to Severyn before a first off-ice review determined that the puck went off Vaughan's skate and into the net, thus changing it to a tally by Dalpe. A later review showed that it hit skates of both players and that the goal should then go to Severyn, who missed a large chunk of the second period after blocking a slap shot.
"It was nice to see C.J. Severyn block that slap shot, come back and score the game-winning goal," Markell said. "That's what we need here. We need guys to battle."
Michigan head coach Red Berenson hadn't seen the goal on replay but was hoping that it wasn't redirected in by Severyn, which by rule should have made it disallowed.
"We have to trust that the officials know that and they must have seen it," Berenson said. "It must have been a good goal."
Ohio State then began the arduous process of killing off the final 4:20, something they could not do five games prior against No. 2 Notre Dame. This time, goaltender Dustin Carlson – who had already stopped Aaron Palushaj and Matt Rust nicely in a third period dominated by Michigan – was game and his defense kept any U-M chances at bay.
"They kept coming and I just tried to stay as poised as possible," Carlson said. "After we scored I definitely was counting seconds one by one."
Severyn's late goal was made possible by a second-period turnaround. With Michigan up 2-0, Ohio State took a pair of two-minute penalties at 6:07 but easily killed off the 120 seconds of two-man disadvantage.
"It was a big kill," said Carlson, who made 35 saves. "I think we all knew it. We were down 2-0 at that point and I think we all felt that was going to be the turning point if we killed it off or if they got something."
Less than two minutes later, at 9:50 to be exact, Elkins batted a rebound out of the air past Hogan to halve Michigan's lead. Then, at 13:17, John Albert dived to poke in a loose rebound in the crease to tie the score.
Thirteen seconds later, Michigan had a goal disallowed when it was determined that the puck was batted in by a Wolverine player's hand.
Michigan had taken an early lead at 3:20 of the first when Robbie Czarnik cut in along the left side on the power play and beat Carlson from a sharp angle on the left. The Wolverines netted an early tally in the second as well when Tim Miller put the rebound of Vaughan's slap shot past Carlson from the slot at 2:19 with Severyn down on the ice in pain from an earlier shot block.
But Michigan couldn't hold that lead, much to Berenson's chagrin.
"You knew Ohio State would come out and play a stronger game tonight and they did," Berenson said. "They got back in the game after being down two goals. Give them credit."
The feeling was different on the other bench after Ohio State prevented the Wolverines from sweeping the four-game season series.
"We beat a very, very good hockey club tonight and I'm proud of our guys for doing it," Markell said.