See that light growing dimmer by the day - that's Michigan's NCAA Tournament hopes after the Wolverines allowed another must-win game to go by the wayside in a 3-2 shootout loss (technically a 2-2 tie) to Ohio State at Yost Ice Arena Friday.
"Midway through the game we only had seven shots. Now how can that be? And that was true. We weren't getting pucks to the net, we weren't in their zone, and it just seemed we picked up the pace," head coach Red Berenson said. "We got pucks in deep; we got pucks to the net. Our team started to play better hockey and from then on, we had a good third period. Nevertheless, it's a tough loss at home. It's a tie; you get one point out of it. That's not good enough for a home game at this time of year against this kind of team -- a conference team. It's disappointing to give that up."
U-M is now 1-4-1 in its last six games, and is in danger of falling behind the Buckeyes and into fourth place in the Big Ten with a loss to OSU in Sunday's regular-season series finale between these two teams.
In this one, it would be fair to argue Michigan was the better team all night as it outshot Ohio State 37-26, but a power-play unit that entered the night ranked 23rd nationally couldn't put one past OSU netminder Matt Tomkins despite five opportunities and 15 man-advantage shots on goal.
"We did possess the puck pretty well, but in the end you've got to take it to the net," senior forward Derek DeBlois said. "I think we have to do a better job of getting bodies and pucks collapsing to the net when we have chances. We had a couple of chances where guys went towards the net, bodies getting there that we could have put one away, but we were just kind of a hair off, and we just have to stay positive and look forward to Sunday."
The Scarlet and Gray struck first, at 4:26 of the opening period, after a defensive turnover landed on the stick of Chad Niddery. He went to Nick Schilkey, who went backhand past Michigan's Zach Nagelvoort.
U-M junior Alex Guptill tied the score at 1-1 with his tally at 19:33 of the first, breaking up the left flank and surprising Tomkins with a shot five-hole. Guptill would score at 14:45 of the third period also, giving Michigan a 2-2 tie after OSU scored on the power play in the second period.
"I thought he played hard -- one of his best games of the year," Berenson said. "He showed up on the score sheet and he showed up on loose pucks and won battles and won races and played much better."
Guptill had another chance to be the hero in the shootout, with the Wolverines down 1-0 after two skaters, but his backhand sailed wide of the net and the coveted second point of the evening went to the Buckeyes, who now trail Michigan by only two points, 24-22, as the rivals seek to lock up the third seed and the chance to meet last-place Penn State in a first-round Big Ten Tournament game March 20.
It is looking more and more likely the Maize and Blue will have to win the conference tournament to make the NCAAs after they've gone 5-8-3 since a 10-2-1 start. With the loss, U-M fell from 14th to 16th in the Pairwise rankings (generally the top 16 teams make the tournament barring a conference champ outside the top 16).
"At this point in the year, we know that every game is important," DeBlois said.