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Hockey: Squad looks to clinch CCHA tourney bye with win

Dan Murphy | Friday, February 6, 2009

Notre Dame winds down one of the toughest stretches of its season this weekend in Columbus, Ohio, as the Irish take on the high-flying Buckeyes.

No. 15 Ohio State (17-8-3, 10-7- 3-3 CCHA) currently sits tied for the all important fourth place spot in the CCHA standings with 26 points. The top four teams in the league receive an opening round bye in the playoffs.

With a win this weekend, the?No. 2 Irish (20-4-3, 14-3-3-3 CCHA) can clinch one of those top four spots. Two wins would give the Irish 38 points in the league, putting them out of reach of all but three teams.

“We have to recognize the situation where we are for the playoffs,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “We want to claim home ice in the second round of the playoffs, and we’ve got to win some games before we do that. At this point, every game is essential, and we can’t let down until we achieve our objective.”

The Buckeyes are eight points behind first-place Notre Dame with eight games left on the schedule. Ohio State needs to pull off a few upsets with No. 4 Michigan and No. 8 Miami still looming ahead.

The Irish are coming off their own showdown with Michigan last weekend. The teams split an emotional home-and-home series with both teams winning on the road.

“It was an emotional weekend,” senior captain Erik Condra said. “We’ve got to keep the tempo up. Just like Michigan, these guys are a strong team with a good offense, so we’ve been practicing at a high tempo and almost mirror the game we played at [Michigan’s] Yost Arena.”

The Buckeyes like to move the puck quickly and have scored 100 goals so far this season with their fast-paced offense.

Notre Dame has slowed down its offensive production in the past few weeks. The team hasn’t scored more than three goals in a game since Dec. 13 against Bowling Green. Ohio State put six past one of the CCHA’s top goaltenders, Chad Johnson, in a win over Alaska last Saturday. They scored four times in the first 10 minutes of the game.

“We’re going to have to be patient. We’re going to have to defend well because they’re a very good offensive team,” Jackson said. “They’ve got the most goals scored in the conference. From a statistical standpoint, this team is of the same caliber as a Michigan or a Miami.”

The Buckeyes have been tough in their own rink this year with only two losses in Value City Arena. The Irish, however, have had no trouble dealing with life on the road. Notre Dame has not lost an away game since its season opener against Denver – a 10-0-1 streak.

“We’ve just got to play our game,” Condra said. “This year they’ve got a highly-skilled team and we’ve just got to play them like we should.”