To answer your most immediate question, probably. This week’s sweep likely skewers Ohio State’s shot at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The Bucks have dropped too far and there are too many teams in contention this year.
|Scoring by Period||1||2||3||Final|
|No. 2 Minnesota||0||6||1||7|
|No. 7 Ohio State||0||1||0||1|
But hope springs eternal. It only takes four wins to claim the WCHA tourney champ’s autobid. Anyway, here’s what happened this afternoon.
The game began well enough in front of a packed house at the OSU Ice Rink. The Buckeyes and Gophers dueled to a scoreless opening period. The Bucks had a late power play which went unconverted. For their own part they remained disciplined and took zero penalties in the frame.
Nadine Muzerall was pleased with her team's opening effort. "5-on-5 I thought the first period was in our favor," said the OSU coach, "and some of the second."
The operative word there being "some." Ohio State was hit with three penalties in the first 12 minutes of the middle frame. Minnesota cashed in on all three chances. The Gophers also added a trio of even strength goals. In all they lit the lamp six times in a little over 10 minutes.
"After a call right on the drop of the puck and saying that we used our hand on it - I question that," reflected Muzerall. "But it kind of changed the pace for us. They scored on their power play. We just have to buckle down a little better on our PK." The coach continued, "We have to find a way, when we get our opportunities, to score. Because every time they came down and shot it went in."
Sophomore Emma Maltais struck one blow for the beleaguered Buckeye penalty kill. At the 7:55 mark of the second period she fired home an unassisted shorthanded tally. For a brief time this cut Minnesota’s lead to 3-1.
Goaltender Amanda Zeglen was lifted after 30:18 of work. The sophomore stopped 12 of 17 shots in her first start since Oct. 5. Freshman Andrea Braendli took over in net and made 19 saves on 21 shots over the remainder of the game.
This is the fifth straight loss for the Scarlet and Gray (15-11-0, 9-9-0-0 WCHA). It’s no mystery where the team’s trouble lies. This is also the fifth straight game in which they have allowed 5+ goals. The penalty kill is 50% over the same stretch (10-for-20).
One might be tempted to say something about an increase in the quality of competition over this stretch of games. But Ohio State defeated each of these recent opponents - Wisconsin, Minnesota-Duluth, and Minnesota - prior to this five-game slide. OSU gave up seven total goals in those four games, going 3-1-0-0. The penalty kill was 15-for-16.
For whatever reason - physical, mental, scholastic - the Bucks have suddenly lost the mojo that boosted them past those tough teams in earlier contests. But they have time to get it back and finish the season strong. The at-large bid might be off the table but there’s still plenty to play for.
There's that WCHA auto-bid, for one thing. This team also has the potential to post 20 wins for just the third time in program history and back-to-back 20 win seasons for the first time ever. Six games remain in the regular season starting with a road series at St. Cloud State next week.