|Ohio State defenseman Justin DaSilva (center) celebrates after his first-period goal proved to be the game-winner, as the Buckeyes topped Penn State 3-1 in the B1G quarterfinal game. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)
The Ohio State Buckeyes have a return trip to the B1G championship game on the mind and despite being the fifth-seed in the tournament, are one step closer to reaching that mark after a 3-1 win over Penn State.
The Buckeyes were out-shot 11-7 through the first 20 minutes, but carried the rate of play and jumped out to an early 2-0 lead generating goals in transition.
An arrant pass up the boards was intercepted by OSU’s David Gust at the Nittany Lions blue line. He quickly transitioned with a chip into open ice where a streaking Nick Schilkey carried the puck past two PSU defensemen caught flat-footed. Schilkey went in one-on-one with PSU goaltender Eamon McAdam, who made an aggressive attempt at a poke-check. Schilkey was quick to capitalize and slipped the puck under McAdam’s right arm, opening the scoring on the Buckeyes’ first shot attempt on goal, just 8:01 into the first period.
Six minutes later, the Buckeyes would strike again as center Tanner Fritz led the charge through the neutral zone. After crossing the blue line, he left a drop-pass for defenseman Justin DaSilva, who stepped into a slap shot that went over McAdam’s right shoulder.
“The last couple weeks, we’ve really been preaching D getting up in the play,” DaSilva said. “When we come out of our zone, D are jumping and being available for our wingers because it’s tough for them to always make plays to the center.”
Buckeyes goaltender Christian Frey—who stopped 30-of-31 shots faced in the game—came up with some big saves in the first period as well. With his team being out-shot, Frey turned away PSU’s Eric Scheid just five minutes into the game. Scheid came in on a breakaway and went forehand-to-backhand but Frey wasn’t fooled as he hung with Scheid and made the left-pad save.
The Nittany Lions turned the second period into a puck-possession battle and controlled much of the game, limiting OSU’s chances and spending a significant amount of time on the attack.
It paid off at the mid-way point of the game when PSU’s Max Gardiner and Zach Saar came into the OSU zone on a 2-on-1. A left-handed shot, Gardiner carried the puck down the left side of the ice. Just as he reached the tops of the circles, Buckeyes defenseman Al McLean laid out to eliminate the passing lane, forcing Gardiner to take a shot. His shot, however, was right on the mark and beat Frey over the right shoulder, hitting the back bar of the net and coming out just as fast as it went in.
The Nittany Lions were finally on the board with their 16th shot on net and plenty of momentum.
The Buckeyes’ Gust would strike in the final minute of the period, though, snuffing out any momentum PSU had acquired. Defenseman Same Jardine made a strong defensive effort with a poke-check at his own blue line to negate a PSU rush. Jardine quickly gathered the puck and sent a pass through the neutral zone to Gust at the opposing blue line. Coming off of a line change, Gust snuck behind the PSU defense and went in alone on PSU’s McAdam. With a forehand-to-backhand move, Gust got McAdam moving left to right and chipped the puck past the PSU goaltender, regaining a commanding two-goal lead for the Buckeyes.
“I think (Gust) is just playing with confidence,” Schilkey said. “Going out there and he’s got a good thing going with Lundey and that line is going. They played well last weekend and when you get some consistency, it helps a lot. He’s just playing with confidence. It’s been in him for a while now and it’s nice to see it come out in a game like this.”
Gust’s goal proved to be the back-breaker as PSU could not rally in the final period, and the Buckeyes cruised to a 3-1 victory in the first quarterfinal game of the tournament.
“You certainly feel a heck of a lot better with a two-goal lead than a one-goal lead,” Buckeyes coach Steve Rohlik said. “Against a team like this, earlier in the year we were up four-zip with 13 minutes to go and it went into ovetime, so we know what kind of firepower they have and we just wanted to keep the game simple, keep playing our way.”
With just nine wins against conference opponents this season, seven of them have come in the last month. Despite being the fifth-seed, OSU is playing some of its best hockey down the stretch and was able to come away with a bit of an upset over the higher ranked Nittany Lions.
The Buckeyes lost in the conference championship game last March 5-4 in overtime to Minnesota. With Thursday’s win over the Nittany Lions, OSU is one win away from returning to the tournament championship game, as they will play the No. 1 seed Gophers at 4:30 p.m. in the first semi-final game on Friday at Joe Louis Arena.