Penn State hockey is now sitting on the happy side of the NCAA tournament field bubble, but there isn’t much room for error. The team sits in the No. 13 PairWise position, which should be good for an invitation to the NCAA tournament at this point. The series sweep makes the Big Ten tournament game on Thursday vital to Penn State’s chances at gaining an at-large bid for the first time in program history.
The Lions put the puck in the net first but the goal was overturned when it was ruled that David Goodwin interfered with Michigan goalie Zach Nagelvoort. As a result, it was Michigan that scored the first official goal, a tough rebound put-back by Adam Winborg.
In the final seconds of the first period Andrew Sturtz scored but the play was whistled dead due to a Penn State player’s helmet coming off. In college hockey, the play stops immediately in that situation. It was the right call, but had nothing to do with the play and preceded the goal by a blink of an eye.
The Lions dominated the second period, out-shooting the Wolverines and controlling play but were unable to score. Michigan took a 2-0 lead early in the final period and forced the Lions to launch a desperate comeback attempt.
Michigan added a late goal by Adam Winborg and then an empty-net goal by Nicholas Boka to burst the Lions’ bubble for the night.
The teams will face off in the first round of the Big Ten tournament on Thursday at 8 p.m. on the Big Ten Network. With the PairWise and tourney field being determined by action around the country it is impossible to say what PSU needs to do at this point to gain an NCAA invitation. There is a very slim chance, let’s say around 5%, that the team could lose on Thursday and still make the tourney. If the team wins on Thursday then loses on Friday to Minnesota, there is less than a 10% chance that the team will not make the NCAA tourney. Should PSU win two games in the Big Ten tournament, it will be at least an at-large team. A third win would garner the auto-bid for the conference tournament win.
The teams came out ready to play and the pace was crisp on both sides for the first nine minutes. 9:06 into the period Penn State scored a goal for the early lead. During the play, David Goodwin was cross-checked from behind into Michigan goalie Zach Nagelvoort. The officials looked at the play and called the goal off, blaming Goodwin for running into Nagelvoort. It was a very questionable call. Coaches on the Penn State bench were upset and had to be restrained before tempers calmed.
Minutes later what appeared to be a soft penalty call against Michigan gave PSU a power play. Whether it was a form of a makeup call or not didn’t matter. A bird in hand is better than two in the bush; one negated goal is nowhere near the same as two minutes with a man advantage. The Lions were unable to score and the teams skated on tied.
Following the penalty Michigan scored and all of the sudden turned a one-goal deficit into a one-goal lead. The overturned goal and unsuccessful power play on top of the score had the feel of more than just one point on the scoreboard. Moments later Andrew Sturtz took a penalty and PSU was under further duress, facing a two-minute penalty kill situation.
Penn State was able to kill the penalty and with four minutes left reasserted itself. Unfortunately the enthusiasm was a little too strong, and Nikita Pavlychev went to the penalty box, leaving the Lions once again on the ropes. Will Lockwood took a very uncharacteristic run at Vince Pedrie, taking a charging penalty and giving the Lions a brief chance with an extra skater in the closing moments of the opening frame.
With 34 seconds left in the period, Andrew Sturtz scored just as the whistle blew to stop the play. Behind the net Trevor Hamilton went to the ice and lost his helmet, forcing the referees to blow the whistle. It was the correct call, but once again the Lions had a goal overturned. This time the whistle had nothing to do with the play, and came just as the goal was being scored. It was a very bad break for PSU.
Penn State had a 5 on 3 power play a few minutes into the second period but were not able to score. The action was fast and the Lions had a slight advantage but remained down a goal. PSU had a 28-9 shots on goal edge midway through the game.
With 6:39 left the Lions held a 20-4 shots on goal advantage for the period, a statistical indicator of how dominant the team was playing. In the closing minute of the period Nikita Pavlychev ran into goalie Zach Nagelvoort behind the net and was called for interference. Nagelvoort was playing the puck and Pavlychev had his stick on the puck while the players made contact but the penalty was called.
40 seconds were left in the period Michigan hit the post with a shot on the power play, nearly gaining a late 2-0 lead. PSU had 22 shots and three power plays in the period, was unable to cut into the 1-0 lead, and a late goal could have proven devastating.
With a little over two minutes expired in the final period, Michigan added to the lead with a power play goal by Tony Calderone.
The teams took matching penalties with seven minutes left in the game. During the penalty Peyton Jones went for a poke-check but instead tripped a Michigan player, giving the Wolverines a 5 on 3 advantage on the ice. The penalty ended without a score but it melted vital minutes off the clock.
Michigan added two late goals, one an empty-netter, to seal the victory.