"We talked about it in the locker room, we had them right where we wanted them, on the road against the No. 2 team in the country," junior John Albert said.
And for much of the third, it seemed the Buckeyes did. Ohio State carried play, outshot Miami 11-5 and sent waves toward the net of goaltender Connor Knapp.
The only thing missing was a tying goal. Second-ranked and top-seeded Miami got an insurance marker midway through the third and held on for dear life, closing out the series with a 2-1 win in front of 2,245 in Steve Cady Arena in Oxford, Ohio.
With goaltender Dustin Carlson pulled, Ohio State got late chances from in close by John Albert and leading scorer Zac Dalpe, but the former's went wide and the latter's got caught in a mess of legs and sticks inside Knapp's crease during the dying seconds.
Then the horn sounded, the CCHA regular-season champions streamed off the bench to celebrate and the Buckeyes' season ended at 15-18-6. For the fifth straight year, the Buckeyes – who finished eighth of 12 teams this time in the regular season – fell short of the league tournament finals in Detroit.
"I'm awfully proud of what they did and how they grew throughout the season," head coach John Markell said. "We hung it on the line. The guys left it out on the ice. It was nice to see."
Markell, whose contract expires at the end of the season, spoke knowing the possibility that he had coached his final game at OSU. Dalpe – and some others – also could be gone as pro hockey beckons, promising an eventful offseason for the Ohio State program.
But that wasn't the focus on this night, as the Buckeyes threw everything they had forward in trying to keep their season alive. After a sleepy first period in which they were outshot 10-2, the Buckeyes got better and better throughout the game to deliver a nervy ending that put plenty of hearts in the throats of the spectators.
"It's what we expected," Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said. "It's do or die – Game 7, if you will – and I thought both teams played their hearts out. I don't know if you can ask anything more of either team. We just happened to get one more bounce than they did, but they certainly had their chances and they really came after us in the third period.
"I know how it feels to be on the other side, and I know that Johnny is telling them he's proud of them because they left it all on the ice. And so did our guys."
Miami (26-6-7) couldn't even rest even though it built a 2-0 lead. Cameron Schilling put the RedHawks ahead with the game's first goal at 9:15 of the second, sending a shot from the top of the slot over Carlson's glove through a screen.
That goal seemed to wake up the Buckeyes – or cause hesitation among the RedHawks. Miami had carried things early, earning some solid first period chances as Ohio State struggled to even get out of its own zone.
But the goal changed things.
"We were feeling the effects there (because) we rolled three lines on Saturday night," Markell said. "We didn't get our legs until basically it was 1-0 and they started hanging back a little bit and not forcing the issue. It gave us an opportunity to get some gaps. We provided opportunities for ourselves and we just couldn't put in it. That's the frustrating part."
Indeed, the Buckeyes pushed and pushed and had the better of play in the latter half of the second. That continued into the third, and Hunter Bishop – who had six goals in his previous three games – had a golden chance to tie the score on a rebound five minutes into the period only to see Knapp sprawl to make the save.
The RedHawks got insurance at 10:15 of the third when Alden Hirschfeld scored on a fantastic individual effort as he dangled to the left post and slipped one past Carlson – who otherwise was fantastic with 22 saves.
But at 14:20, Ohio State took advantage of its first power play of the game when Albert took possession of what had been a loose puck and fed C.J. Severyn cross-crease to put into the yawning cage, making the score 2-1.
That set up a frantic finish, but Knapp – who watched Cody Reichard start the first two games of the series in goal – was equal to the task while wrapping up a 22-save night.
"We prepared all week for this, and I think you can execute with confidence even when it's getting a little crazy out there when you know you're prepared and you've been through it," said Knapp, whose sister Chelsea is the starter for OSU's women's team. "Our preparation was a big part of our win tonight."
Meanwhile, Ohio State was left to rue the chances it had that fell short.
"I think that kid of tells the story of the second half of the season," said Dalpe, who got his 24th assist and 45th point of the year. "Things didn't go our way at the start and we kind of went down swinging."
"I mean, give us 10, 30 more seconds, a minute – anything could happen there," Albert said.
Instead, the buzzer sounded. Whether it signifies the end of an era remains to be seen.