It was as close to a must-win game as the Michigan hockey team had faced all year.
And the 13th-ranked Wolverines played like it, riding two first-period power-play goals and three total to a 4-3 win over Ohio State Sunday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
The result keeps Michigan in sole possession of third place in the Big Ten standings — four points behind Wisconsin — and on the right side of the NCAA Tournament bubble.
“It was a huge game,” junior forward Phil Di Giuseppe told reporters.
In a contest replete with penalties, the Wolverines’ struggling special-teams unit outplayed the Buckeyes’ conference-leading one.
On their first opportunity of the night, sophomore forward Andrew Copp sent a soft wrist shot toward the scrum in front of Ohio State’s crease. The puck deflected off freshman forward Alex Kile’s skate and into the net to give Michigan the lead just 2:26 into the first period.
Five minutes later, Copp contributed again on the Wolverines’ next chance with the man advantage. He slid a pass to senior forward Luke Moffatt in the slot, who turned and laced a wrister past goaltender Matt Tomkins.
And at 10:30 of the third period, Di Giuseppe launched a slap shot that popped the water bottle on Tomkins’ net, providing a 4-2 advantage that propelled Michigan to the win.
“We were prepared, and we were ready to go right from the get-go,” Copp said. “I think it showed our preparation was where it needed to be today.”
The Wolverines (8-6-2-1 Big Ten, 16-10-4 overall) entered Sunday’s game with a paltry 17.9-percent conversion rate on the power play, including an 0-for-6 mark in Friday’s 2-2 tie and shootout loss against the Buckeyes (5-7-4-3, 15-11-4). Sunday marked their first game of the year with three power-play goals.
“I thought we moved the puck a little quicker, and we moved around a little more,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “We weren’t as stationary as we were the other night, and we made good plays rather than take shots into bodies.”
Just 1:19 after Di Giuseppe’s tally in the third period, Ohio State’s Sam Jardine cut the deficit back to one with a long wrist shot. But the Wolverines survived the final minutes to escape with a victory.
The Buckeyes tallied twice in the second period. First, on a two-man breakaway, forward David Gust’s backhand deke and score left sophomore netminder Steve Racine sitting in his goal. And with 2:15 left in the frame, forward Darik Angeli drove to the crease and chipped the puck over Racine as the net came off its moorings.
But the Wolverines responded with a goal of their own, adding their third of the night at 6:12 of the second period — their only tally at even strength. Senior forward Derek DeBlois capped his line’s strong shift by firing a high shot that snuck by Tomkins’ short side, helping Michigan enter the second intermission up 3-2.
“It was anyone’s game,” Berenson said. “I thought there was a point where we had two or three grade ‘A’ chances in the second period, and we didn’t score on them. Then they got the goal they needed to get back into the game. The game could have gone either way right until the end.”
Racine finished the night with 34 saves, coming up huge on penalty kills in the first and third periods. And each of those stops mattered as Michigan held on for the crucial one-goal win.