With that in mind, the No. 14 Ohio State men's hockey team was pleased after starting postseason play with a 5-4 win against Bowling Green in Game 1 of the first round of the CCHA playoffs Friday night.
"The most important thing is we got the win tonight, but we have better in the tank for sure so we have to look at some film and see where we can get better," said captain Peter Boyd, who had two goals including the game winner for Ohio State.
OSU never trailed but the capacity crowd of 817 in the OSU Ice Rink would be hard-pressed to say that the Buckeyes were the better team throughout. The Falcons, the CCHA's last-place team, earned a heavy shot lead early and ended up with 36 to the Buckeyes' 29.
Bowling Green carried play for portions of the opening stanza and answered four of the Buckeyes' five tallies. The difference in the game was the one the Falcons didn't get, including one third-period goal that the visitors had disallowed.
"We're disappointed because I thought our guys over the 60 minutes did a lot of the things that we had talked about over the week that were going to be necessary to win," BG head coach Scott Paluch said. "But that's hockey."
His counterpart, Buckeye bench boss John Markell, blamed his young team's nervousness and the heightened atmosphere brought on by the trip to the Ice Rink for any struggles.
"It was pure nervousness on our part," he said. "Nobody on that bench knew if they could do it or not. It doesn't matter who you're paying. We have no experience. A lot of those guys had never played a game of that tempo."
It didn't help that Ohio State was missing exciting forward Zac Dalpe and top defenseman Matt Bartkowski. The two freshmen were not in the lineup because of a coach's decision but are expected back for Saturday night's second game of the best-of-three series.
Before the game, no one – let alone the team's 22 underclassmen – knew what effect the trip across the Olentangy River would have on the contest, but the bouncier boards and tightened confines seemed to put the game on edge from the beginning. Playoff hockey is known for its tight checking but this one was up and down with plenty of twists and turns.
The third period was the most up and down of them all with a total of five goals scored after the teams exited the second period deadlocked at two goals apiece.
The Buckeyes jumped to the lead just 3:14 into the frame when Chris Reed's shot from the right point beat goaltender Jimmy Spratt over the near shoulder. Just 2:04 later, Boyd's first goal of the night, earned after stealing the puck from the blue line and beating Spratt to the blocker, seemed to put the game in OSU's hands.
But Paluch called a timeout and BG's leading scorer, Dan Sexton, potted his 17th goal of the year at 5:52 after a shot from the point went wide but bounced back out to the post.
With 12:16 to go, Falcon Kai Kantola thought he had the equalizer on the power play but review ruled that the cage behind Dustin Carlson had come off of its moorings.
Boyd got what proved to be the winner at 14:23, taking a pass from Corey Elkins and beating Spratt again from the right wing.
"I actually wanted to get them off as quick as possible," Boyd said of his goals. "He's a good goalie and I kind of wanted to get the element of surprise and get something going quick. I was just fortunate they went in and I'm happy to get the win."
Tommy Dee got the second of his goals just 27 seconds later when he put in a rebound, but Carlson was never really challenged again.
The Buckeyes' first two goals were created by point shots just like Reed's. Corey Elkins' team-leading 15th goal of the year opened the scoring 13:30 into the game when he redirected Erick Belanger's shot from the left point, and Corey Toy's second tally of the year was simply a right-point shot that got by Spratt midway through the second.
"We always want to shoot it because we're D, we don't really get a chance to score much so if we have any chance to get it on net we want to," Reed said.
Bowling Green answered each of the first two. Elkins' was canceled out with 1:33 left in the first when Nick Bailen scored through Carlson's legs from the right wing, and Dee's first goal came at 15:39 of the second when he won a race to a loose puck 4-on-4 to beat Carlson.
That 4-on-4 was set up when much-maligned Ian Boots took a five-minute major penalty for hitting from behind and a game misconduct with the Buckeyes on the man advantage.
Markell had a simple answer when asked about what he liked most about the game.
"What was I most happy about? The 5-4 win," he said.
The teams continue their best-of-three series Saturday night at 7:05 p.m. on WOSU-AM 820 and www.wosu.org.
Notes: Ohio State's streak of consecutive games without a power-play goal reached seven when OSU was 0 for 2 on its man-up chances. … Boyd and linemates John Albert and Kyle Reed were all plus-2. … Boyd also had an assist to give him a three-point night. … The Buckeyes have 16 goals in their last three games and 17 in three games vs. Bowling Green this year while going 3-0 against the Falcons. … The red hair dye used by team members in a show of unity started to bleed onto the squad's white uniforms for some of the players with longer hair, giving them a pinkish hue.