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Big Ten Hockey Tournament: Breakaways by the Buckeyes set up a rematch with Minnesota

Ohio State once again is trying to play its best hockey of the year at the Big Ten tournament. Through one game it is on pace.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

DETROIT- Ohio State is quickly breaking away from the rest of the Big Ten in the conference tournament.

There have only been two tournaments so far - or six complete games if you want to be specific. Right now the Buckeyes have won 3 of those. Both times the Buckeyes, which won 6 of the last 9 games, have come in playing trying to play its best hockey.

"We have confidence right now, so the best time to peak is right before playoffs, and fortunately we got healthy," defenseman Justin Dasilva said after Thursday's 3-1 win over Penn State. "We got back to our game and things are going our way right now."

A year ago Ohio State worked its way from playing Thursday to nearly winning Saturday's championship game before fading away. The Buckeyes will try to repeat that this weekend and trying to win three games in three days.

So far the team is succeeding by taking advantage when it has an opening. Twice the Buckeyes scored by catching Penn State off-guard on line changes to create breakaways and nearly scored on a third. The first came when Tanner Fritz found Dasilva, who got open on the end of his shift and unleashed a slap shot past Nittany Lions goalie Eamon McAdam.

The second was near the end of the period when defenseman Sam Jardine found David Gust wide open on a breakaway. It put a cushion against a team which had come back from 4 down to tie OSU two months prior, said Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik.

"They're a hard forechecking team. They bring their guys down the walls and that first guy comes at you hard," said Jardine about Penn State. "We just wanted to get to pucks fast, communicate with (goaltender Christian Frey) when he had the puck and get the puck up to the forwards so they could do their job."

Trying to create goals through catching the defense napping and breakaways wasn't part of the plan, however. That doesn't mean Gust won't take it.

"It's just kind of hockey awareness and trying to stay behind them if you can," he said.

Fully healthy up front and getting the help it needs from the defnse, Ohio State now turns its attention to top seed Minnesota. The Buckeyes and Gophers met in last season's Big Ten semifinal with OSU winning 3-1.

In the four games this year Minnesota won three. Two of them - a sweep by the Gophers  featured a team that just came off dressing less than 20 players due to illness and injuries before the Gophers, as head coach Don Lucia put it, faced a different team in Columbus.

The Buckeyes' lone win against the Gophers came in the final game two weeks ago. In that game Ohio State also got help offensively from the blue line, which as Jardine noted is key to the team's late season turnaround. The more times Ohio State played Minnesota the better more successful they were this year.

"Number one, we're going to have to play our best game of the year. Certainly we're playing the best team in the league," Rohlik said. "They came down to stretch time and they won the league and they deserve that. We know we've got to go out there. They're very skilled from the goaltending on out, and they've got some pretty special players there. So time and space is a big thing. We've just got to stick with our blueprint."

To win against Minnesota once again, the Buckeyes will have to get things going from the goalie (Frey made 28 saves) to the blue line and up to the scoring forwards.

It helps that the two are playing on the NHL-sized rink of Joe Louis Arena rather than the Olympic sheet of Marriuci.

"We like playing them on NHL ice. I think that works out in our favor," said Jardine, who added the Buckeyes need to take away the Gophers' time and space and not give them respect just for being the top seed.

Still, the blueprint may possibly need to be expanded to lean on some of the experience gained on the ice in the Big Ten tournament.

"Pretty much the same locker room as last year. There are a couple new freshmen so we have a lot of guys who have been through this all, which helps throughout the tournament," Gust said. "We just got to play physical. (Minnesota) is used to playing on the big sheet. We're on the smaller ice and just have to play our game."

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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter --