COLUMBUS — The revitalized, reenergized and refocused Michigan hockey team looked the part not just on a flashy goal, an earth-shattering hit or a nifty glove save.
It looked it on a puck clearance.
Six and a half minutes into the second period, senior forward Kevin Lynch flung the puck past both blue lines on a penalty kill. But as the puck made its sluggish bounce down the ice, Lynch sprinted down, chasing the puck as Ohio State slowly regrouped. Forced to evade Lynch, the Buckeye defensive pair skated behind net playing keep away.
The play lasted nearly 10 seconds, but if anything resembled the Wolverines effort in their 5-3 victory over their rival, and third true road win of the season, it was that.
Michigan (8-15-2 CCHA, 11-18-2 overall) played some of its best defense of the year, thanks in part to a strong forecheck in the opposing zone, despite entering Friday’s contest last in the CCHA in goals allowed, with 3.63 per game.
Facing one of the stingiest defenses in the conference, the Wolverines’ own defense gave their goaltender — this time freshman Steve Racine — an easy time. Racine stopped 29 shots, making all the easy saves he was expected to.
The Buckeyes (12-8-5, 13-13-7), rank third in the conference in goals allowed (2.21) per game, but they gave up the first two goals.
“You’re not going to get five goals against that team very often,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “Then again, maybe we got lucky. The power play connected … but I’m sure that both goalies and both coaches, think they could have had a couple that they’d like to get back.”
With less than five minutes in first period, Alex Guptill received the puck in front of the crease where he batted a shot at the net. Buckeye keeper Brady Hjelle made the initial save before Guptill grabbed his own rebound and flicked a shot into the top corner of the net to take the lead.
Guptill’s goal on the power play, once a disappointing facet in Michigan’s game, ensured that Michigan would continue its streak of scoring a power-play goal in each of its past eight games.
The game continued slowly, highlighted by the Wolverine’s play in the opposing zone. Michigan kept the pressure off of its defense by pressuring Hjelle, throwing shots on the net even if there weren’t open looks. The Wolverines outshot Ohio State 34-32 during the game.
Freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba gave the Wolverines their second goal with a snipe from the point off of a feed from senior forward A.J. Treais, for Treais’ second assist of the game. The goal was Trouba’s sixth with an extra man, ranking him sixth in the nation.
Ohio State opened the third period skating faster and hitting harder, catching the Wolverines on their heels.
“You knew they would bounce back, and they did,” Berenson said. “When they scored (their) first goal it was a new game, so it was important for us to stay focused.”
Buckeye forward Max McCormack trailed his teammate Tanner Fritz, before the puck was passed back to the top of the left circle. From there, McCormack put Ohio State on the board after he fired a shot that was too quick for Racine.
Yet as momentum appeared to shift in the final stanza, Michigan killed off one of six penalties and several close calls around their own net.
“I don’t know if there was a secret (to the penalty kill), but it was definitely a factor in the game,” Berenson said. “Give credit to our defensemen and our forwards for keeping them off the score sheet.”
Added junior forward Derek DeBlois: “I think as a team we’ve been playing a little harder than we have all year, a little stronger defensively. A couple bad breaks have kind of hurt us, but today we kind of kept pushing, kept fighting.”
The Wolverines added another goal from junior forward Luke Moffat with less than 10 minutes to go. Freshman forward Boo Nieves bolted down the ice and attempted a shot, and Moffatt trailed to knock the puck in.
Ohio State would not go down easily, scoring its second goal of the game on an odd-man rush to beat Racine glove side.
But Guptill secured the game when he scored near the bottom of the right circle on a one-timer from freshman forward Andrew Copp.
It was a good thing for Michigan that he did too, as the Buckeyes’ Ryan Dzingel tacked on his team’s third goal with a 1:15 to go in the game.
DeBlois added an empty-netter in the final minutes to finish off the Buckeyes.
“Sometimes you have to be lucky,” Berenson said. “And sometimes you have to be good.”