It wasn’t hard to figure out why Ohio State and Wisconsin split two Big Ten hockey games in Value City Arena this weekend.
OSU had a two-goal lead after the first period Friday en route to a 2-1 win and the Badgers had a 2-0 advantage Saturday for the 4-2 victory to snap the Buckeyes’ six-game unbeaten streak.
“It was a reverse,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “We got the 2-0 lead. That was the difference in the game. That was the difference (Friday).”
Morgan Zulinick and Mark Zengerle put the No. 8 Badgers (17-9-2, 8-5-1-0 Big Ten) in front before freshman Nick Schilkey countered for the Buckeyes in the middle period.
The Badgers stretched the lead early in the third on another goal by Zengerle before Wisconsin native Max McCormick scored 55 seconds later for the Buckeyes (15-10-3, 5-6-3-2).
OSU could not solve goalie Joel Rumpel (28 saves) the rest of the way and Nic Kerdiles scored into an empty net with two seconds left to send the Buckeyes to defeat after four wins and two ties in the previous six games.
“There’s nothing worse than getting swept,” Zengerle said. “(Friday) was a tough pill to swallow.”
A victory would have moved the Buckeyes past the Badgers into second place in the conference behind No. 2 Minnesota. Instead, they are tied for third with Michigan for third with 20 points, five fewer than Wisconsin.
“We know we played good,” Schilkey said. “We know we’re close. When the opportunities there, we have to keep climbing in the standings.”
OSU trailed 2-1 entering the third and quickly fell further behind just over two minutes in on a fluky play. Freshman goalie Christian Frey left a rebound at the feet of OSU defenseman Curtis Gedig, who had his back to the goalie and was checking Zengerle.
Gedig never saw the puck and Zengerle took it and deposited it for the temporary two-goal lead before McCormick scored off a pass from Drew Brevig.
Despite giving up two goals in the first, OSU coach Steve Rohlik was pleased with how the game began.
“We think we played a better game tonight overall,” he said. “We did what we wanted to do in the first, get off to a good start. We had the momentum, had some good chances and got on the power play.
“We did a lot of good things. I was happy where we were at then all of a sudden we take a penalty and they scored on the power play and got another one.”
Wisconsin managed only six shots in the first but still came away with a pair of goals. The two goals in the first 12 minutes represented the number the Badgers had scored against Frey in his first two games against them. Frey finished with 24 saves.
It was also the third time in the past five games that the Buckeyes faced a 2-0 deficit.
They started working on it when Schilkey scored on an odd-man rush at 12:54 of the second for his ninth goal.
Ryan Dzingel picked up the secondary assist for his 100th career point, the first OSU junior to reach the century mark since Columbus Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger in 2003.
But it was the long outlet by Brevig that sprung Schilkey. The Buckeyes were under constant pressure when Dzingel gathered the puck in front of the OSU goal and dished to Brevig in the left circle.
Brevig sent a pass off the boards into the neutral zone where Schilkey took it with speed. He broke down the left side with Dzingel streaking down the middle. Schilkey elected to keep the puck, drew it back and snapped a shot past Rumpel.
“The defenseman took away the second guy, Dzingel, coming down the other side,” Schilkey said. “I just took what the goalie gave me, the defenseman gave me.”
The Badgers opened the scoring with a power-play goal by Zulinick at 9:54 of the first with a shot through traffic. Zengerle had a beautiful redirect of a Grant Besse shot two minutes later and the Buckeyes were in a hole. They almost immediately started to climb out of it but Rumpel made a great pad save on a wraparound by Darik Angeli.
OSU’s downfall for the weekend was its power play. The Buckeyes were the fifth-best in the nation and the Badgers had a top-five penalty kill.
The Buckeyes went scoreless in seven opportunities in the series and had only seven shots during 12 minutes, 40 seconds of man-up play.
“They did a great job,” Rohlik said of the Badgers. “They’re as simplified as any. They stay in lanes and blocked shots. They shut us down plain and simple. They’re special teams we’re better than ours.”
The Buckeyes are idle next weekend before playing Feb. 28 at Michigan. The return game is March 2 at 1 p.m. at Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus.