Penn State did everything it had to do to get the win through nearly 60 minutes of play. With just 7 seconds left on the clock, a face-off in Penn State’s defensive zone was set to be the final play of the game. A breakdown in coverage led to a game-tying goal by Justin Kloos of Minnesota with just 3.5 seconds left in the game. With under 2 minutes left in overtime, Rem Pitlick scored to secure the win for the Big Ten-leading Gophers.
The average hockey game features its swings of emotions. A big hit or miraculous save can boost one side’s confidence or shatter the other side’s hope.
The final three minutes of regulation Saturday night featured enough emotional swings for an entire season.
With just over two minutes remaining and Penn State holding onto a one-goal lead, Tyler Sheehy fired a laser over Peyton Jones’ glove to pull Minnesota even at two.
Not even a minute later, Denis Smirnov was pulled down on a breakaway and was awarded a penalty shot. The slick Russian forward made a quick move and slid the puck between the legs of Eric Schierhorn, blowing the roof off Pegula Ice Arena and putting the Nittany Lions on top once again.
The message Gophers’ coach Don Lucia gave to his team was simple, according to Rem Pitlick.
“Not quitting. That’s exactly what we needed to do, not quit. We didn’t quit, and we scored and we came back and won. The rest is history.”
With little time to spare — just 1:26 — the Golden Gophers broke out the full court press. The Lions managed a few chances at the empty net, none of which found their way home. An icing call with just seven seconds remaining gave the Gophers one last opportunity to tie the game.
The aggressive offense paid off with just 3.5 seconds remaining in regulation, as Justin Kloos sent a point shot over Jones’ glove. The goal seemed to give the Gophers a spark of life, while the Lions bench seemed to deflate.
The Gophers carried that momentum into overtime, when Rem Pitlick, coming off a hat trick Friday night, floated the puck toward Jones. The shot deflected off a Lions’ defenseman and into the bottom corner of the goal, sealing the win and weekend sweep for the Gophers.
For two-thirds of the game, it appeared that the Gophers would have to settle for a series split. After assisting on all three goals last night, Denis Smirnov opened the scoring for the Lions on a beautiful passing play. After Ricky DeRosa forced a turnover at the Lions blue line, he pushed the puck ahead to Smirnov.
A give and go play with Nate Sucese left Smirnov with an open net. The freshman forward buried the puck past Schierhorn for his fourth point of the weekend and ninth in the past four games.
Midway through the period, the Lions were gifted an opportunity to extend their lead after Gophers’ forward Joey Marooney drilled Nikita Pavlychev from behind into the boards. Marooney, who was filling in for the injured Mike Szmatula, was issued a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the infraction, marking the second time in the weekend a Gopher had been tossed from a game.
Last night, Brent Gates Jr. was given the same penalty combination after he hit Erik Autio from behind into the boards.
Despite the extended chance, the Lions failed to generate offensive pressure, and the best scoring chance during the five minutes came on a breakaway for Gophers captain Justin Kloos, which was denied by Peyton Jones.
Nearly a full period after the opening goal, David Goodwin doubled the Lions’ lead early in the second period. On an odd-man rush, Vince Pedrie attempted a cross-ice pass but fanned on it. Fortunately for Pedrie, Goodwin was following the play and picked up the loose puck and fired a sharp-angle shot past Schierhorn’s blocker for his sevenths of the season.
Late in the middle frame, the Lions received another phenomenal chance to extend their lead. With Kloos in the box for tripping, Darian Romanko gave the Lions a two-man advantage for 1:14 after he was called for slashing Andrew Sturtz’s stick in half. The Lions sustained limited pressure on the advantage, but could not beat Schierhorn.
After killing off the remaining 45 seconds of Romanko’s penalty to start the third period, the Gophers used that momentum to cut the Lions lead in half. On an odd-man rush, Vinni Lettieri found Jake Bischoff at the back door for an easy tap-in goal.
The offense went cold for much of the third period following Bischoff’s goal, before the three-minute stretch that saw the Lions and Gophers trade shifts in momentum before the Gophers emerged victorious.
The emotional swings and ultimate heartbreaking finish can easily spread into the final stretch run of the season. The often positive Gadowsky understands the negative effect this loss can have on his squad. True to his nature, he would rather focus on the potential positives.
"It can be hard to get over mentally,” he said, “or it can be a lot of motivation too."