The Buckeyes dropped a 2-1 decision to the Wolverines on Saturday night in Value City Arena, seeing hopes of its first sweep against the team up north since 1989 dashed by a dominating U-M defensive effort. Instead, the Scarlet and Gray split with the Maize and Blue for the sixth time in seven series.
"So there's not much to choose between the teams," Michigan head coach Red Berenson said afterward.
There wasn't on this particular night, either. Michigan had the edge in the shot count 36-27 but neither team had a plethora of outstanding opportunities; both teams put the clamps down defensively during 5-on-5 play.
The difference, then, was Michigan's power play, which potted the two Wolverine goals among its six chances including the game winner only 21 seconds into the third period. With Michigan holding a 5-on-3 advantage thanks to consecutive contact to the head penalties to top OSU defensemen Matt Bartkowski and Corey Toy, Matt Rust put a rebound past Cal Heeter after the puck bounced off the post on a shot by Chris Brown.
When asked if penalties were his team's undoing, OSU head coach John Markell said, "Let's clarify it – a stupid penalty to make it a 5-on-3. We just cost ourselves another game with a stupid penalty."
Michigan (8-8-0, 4-6-0-0) had already earned the game's first marker 9:50 into the contest with a power-play tally when captain Chris Summers beat Heeter with a screened shot from the left point that went over the goalie's glove.
A weak point all season, Ohio State's penalty kill fell to only a 73.2-percent success rate on the year. As a result, OSU dropped to 7-10-1 (5-6-1-1 in the league) and into seventh place, while Michigan escaped the league's basement thanks to its smothering defensive play.
"I don't think we played a bad game, I don't think we played a great game," Markell said. "It was just kind of a game that was a little bit heavier than some of our guys wanted to play. What I mean by that is we didn't get down on loose pucks and sustain any kind of play. We were just kind of slapping the puck around where last night we weren't."
Ohio State possessed the puck plenty in the offensive zone during even-strength play, but there was little the team could do to actually create scoring chances out of it. In fact, perhaps the Buckeyes' best chance came shorthanded six minutes into the second period when Kyle Reed earned a breakaway, but U-M goaltender Bryan Hogan got a piece of his backhanded try.
"I think we played better defensively, and I think our goalie was Johnny-on-the-spot," Berenson said. "They had a couple of isolated good chances, particularly the shorthanded breakaway. That's a big lift for a team one way or the other. It was a good save by Hogan. I thought he played better and our defense, our whole team played better."
Hogan ended with 26 saves, also forcing Hunter Bishop's quick shot after he got behind his man into the post early in the third. He was beaten only when John Albert scored just under the bar from the left after taking a cross-ice feed from Peter Boyd with 10.6 seconds to play and an extra attacker on.
OSU kept the goaltender out and appeared to set up a play after the faceoff, but a centering feed somehow winded its way through traffic in front and out of the zone as the final horn sounded to end a frustrating night for the home fans among the 4,953 in attendance.
Heeter, meanwhile, had 34 saves in his third consecutive start, including excellent first-period stops on A.J. Treais, Brian Lebler and Luke Glendening.