A crowd of 9,012 fans showed up hoping to watch the Buckeyes get at least a point to clinch fourth place in the CCHA and instead saw the RedHawks dominate for 55 minutes on OSU's Senior Night. Miami opened up a 6-2 lead and staved off the late Buckeye onslaught to earn a 7-5 win to end regular season play for both teams.
With the loss, Ohio State is relegated to a fifth-place finish in the CCHA. The first-round bye that would have come along with a fourth-place ending is lost; instead the Buckeyes will host a best-of-three series with Bowling Green next weekend in the OSU Ice Rink and, with a win, would face a trip to Fairbanks to face Alaska in the CCHA quarterfinals March 13-15.
Joe Louis Arena, site of the CCHA final four in Detroit, never seemed so far away.
"They were a better team tonight than we were," OSU head coach John Markell said. "We just didn't play a good first two periods. There's no doubt about it. The kids are disappointed, obviously, and we're disappointed to come that close and then you can't get it done, especially after playing the game we played last night."
On Friday in Miami, the Buckeyes (20-12-4, 13-11-4-3 CCHA) took advantage of their opportunities to post a 6-2 win, their first ever in Steve Cady Arena. That huge victory put the Buckeyes within one point of fourth-place Alaska, but OSU was never the better team in Value City Arena on Saturday.
The sloppy Buckeyes were undone by numerous turnovers that ended up in their own net and perhaps the worst performance of the year from goaltender Dustin Carlson. Miami (19-10-5, 17-7-4-2) won the one-on-one battles, jumped out to a lead and answered the first two Ohio State goals with scores of their own.
"We just played with more energy last night," Markell said. "Who knows why that happens? The way (our players) played last night, I fully expected that they could bring it back and do it again."
Miami's Brian Kaufman, Justin Mercier and Alden Hirschfeld all scored two goals, while Andy Miele had the game winner. Buckeyes Peter Boyd and senior Corey Elkins scored twice while Hunter Bishop had the other goal.
The 7-5 final wasn't all that representative of the way the game was played. Miami led 2-0 after the first period, 3-0 in the second, 4-1 after two periods and 6-2 midway through the third.
"We flat-out got embarrassed last night," Mercier said. "We weren't going to let that happen again."
Kaufman scored on a power play just 5:54 into the game and Mercier doubled the advantage from the left circle on a sweet feed from Miele 12:58 into the game.
Kaufman scored again 2:41 into the second but Boyd seemed to get the Buckeyes back into the game at 9:34, scoring on a shorthanded breakaway on a backhanded pass from Kyle Reed by beating Miami goaltender Connor Knapp to make it 3-1.
That lasted just 1:06, as Carlson spilled a rebound that led to a fracas during which Hirschfeld scored his second career goal.
Boyd again ignited the crowd 1:49 into the third with another breakaway goal that made it 4-2, but the team didn't have the same response. Senior defenseman Nick Biondo overskated a puck near his own blue line that led to a 2-on-1 that Hirschfeld ended with a rebound goal at 4:43 of the third.
A power-play breakaway goal by Miele at 9:07 seemed to put the nail in the coffin, but Bishop scored on a feed from john Albert at 11:41 to make it 6-3.
When the intervening 6½ minutes didn't yield a goal, the game looked over. On this weird night, it was not.
Carlson was pulled for an extra attacker with 5:26 left, then Elkins scored from in close at 18:21 on a centering feed from Boyd that made it 6-4. He scored again with 1:15 to go in a scrum to make the score 6-5 and set up what looked like it might be a miracle finish.
"We were like, ‘Holy smokes,' " Elkins said.
But a turnover after the Buckeyes won the ensuing faceoff allowed Mercier to end the contest with an empty-netter with 59.1 seconds left.
The main question afterward was why it took the Buckeyes so long to finally show the fight that cut the 6-2 deficit to 6-5.
"You can't press five or six minutes and expect to win the game," Boyd said. "If we could play 60 minutes like that, it would be interesting to see how good we could be."
Markell added that such an effort will not be satisfactory in the playoffs, even as the Buckeyes face off next weekend against the last-place team in the league in Bowling Green.
"You're going to have to back up good games with good games in the playoffs," he said. "There's no tomorrow."
Carlson, perhaps the player most responsible for the Buckeyes' turnaround from last year's 11th-place finish, stopped just 27 of 33 shots. Knapp made 26 stops on 31 shots.
Notes: Seniors Elkins, Biondo and Zach Pelletier were honored in a pregame ceremony. … Miami was 2 for 5 on the power play, while OSU's scoreless streak on the power play reached six games. … Miami's Mercier and Jarod Palmer and Ohio State's Patrick Schafer each needed medical attention during the physical contest, but all returned. … The Buckeyes already were without center Mathieu Picard, who was injured Friday night in Oxford. … A public sale of playoff tickets will begin Tuesday. The OSU Ice Rink holds only 800 spectators. … Miami finished the year in third place in the CCHA.