The defensive problems were still there, and while that did not matter Friday night, it came back to bite the Michigan hockey team in the second game of its series against No. 11 Ohio State.
Just one night after nearly blowing a four-goal lead, the Wolverines surrendered six goals to the Buckeyes in the second game of the weekend series. On Friday, Michigan held on for a 5-4 victory, but it could not do the same Saturday, blowing a two-goal lead to fall, 6-5.
“… We have to play better in the third period,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “… They were the better team in the third period. Maybe they’re the better team on paper, but we’ve got to play better. I don’t care about the paper, what the paper says. Our team has to play better. We’ve got to play better in our own zone, and we’ve got to play better in their zone. We didn’t have enough push in this game, we didn’t have enough second efforts or leadership to make a difference in the game. Disappointing. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
The Wolverines gave up too many power plays and too many chances from near the crease and in the slot — both recurring themes throughout this season — which made things difficult for Hayden Lavigne. The freshman goaltender was outstanding, stopping 29 of 35 shots, and made big save after big save to limit the damage.
At times, Lavigne’s play appeared to be enough. While Michigan’s defense struggled, its offense continued to play well — but just not well enough to make up for the defensive shortcomings in the end. The Wolverines (2-7-1 Big Ten, 9-13-2 overall) poured in five goals, keeping pace with the Buckeyes (4-5-1, 13-7-6) for most of the night.
“I think we were getting pucks to the net a lot more this weekend,” said freshman forward Jake Slaker. “Probably these last two games were the most shots we’ve had in any game this season, so that’s something we’ve really worked on in practice, just getting pucks to the net and bodies to the net.”
Saturday’s game was a chippy, back-and-forth affair, as both teams traded big hits and the lead.
The Buckeyes jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first period when forward Nick Schilkey sniped one past Lavigne on an Ohio State power play. Michigan responded quickly, though, off sophomore forward Cooper Marody’s goal — his fourth of the weekend after a natural hat trick Friday — that tied things at one. The Buckeyes took the lead once more just three minutes later before Michigan responded in a big way.
Senior defenseman Sam Piazza’s sixth goal of the season tied things up at two, and then Slaker’s power-play goal gave his team a 3-2 lead.
Marody continued his hot streak on offense in the second period. His pass during a 2-on-1 opportunity found the stick of freshman forward James Sanchez, whose goal extended the lead to two and chased Ohio State goaltender Christian Frey from the game.
After Mason Jobst and Max Shuart traded goals, leaving the score at 5-3, the Buckeyes mounted another comeback attempt.
A power-play goal from forward John Wiitala off a feed from Matthew Weis cut the deficit to one. Then, nearly eight minutes into the third period, sophomore defenseman Nicholas Boka and forward Brendan Warren were each sent off for high-sticking. The penalties gave the Buckeyes a 5-on-3 advantage that Jobst capitalized on, scoring his second of the night to tie the game at five.
Neither team could muster any consistent offense for the rest of the period, but with just 29.5 seconds left, Schilke struck yet again for the Buckeyes. His goal gave Ohio State a lead that it would not relinquish this time, stunning the Yost Ice Arena crowd and leaving Michigan still in search of its first sweep of the season.
With just 10 games left in the regular season remaining, opportunities to move up the PairWise Rankings — however slim those chances may be — are few, and Saturday’s loss just may have been the nail in the coffin.
It has not been a banner year for the Wolverines. The chances of capturing a NCAA berth in the regular season are slim to none, and with the way the team has struggled against every conference foe, winning the Big Ten Tournament appears to be a tough task as well.
After tonight’s loss, Slaker and Marody were both introspective. Slaker thought Michigan made “strides in the right direction” when it came to establishing consistency on a game-to-game basis. Marody acknowledged the youth of the team and expressed his belief that a team has to take a loss — or two or three — like Saturday’s to “really learn a lesson and move forward.”
And while Marody’s sentiment is most certainly true, there isn’t enough time to swallow a loss at the expense of learning those lessons.