Only five teams remained alive in all of college hockey as Denver and Penn State fought to find out which would gain the final invitation to Chicago for the 2017 Frozen Four. The scoreboard is the only entity that could possibly consider this a loss for the 2016-17 Penn State team. The Lions, led by a group of underclassmen that will return next season, exceeded all expectations, getting to the Elite 8 in the NCAA tournament.
Dylan Richard hit the post with a great scoring chance early and Denver took the puck down the ice, scoring the first goal of the game on the ensuing possession. Denver added another goal a few minutes later for an early 2-0 lead.
Penn State hung in there for ten minutes, down two goals knowing a third could be a serious problem. Then Denver went on the power-play, and it appeared PSU was in big trouble. Instead Nikita Pavlychev scored a short-handed goal to cut the lead to 2-1 at the first intermission.
Early in the second period Denis Smirnov tied the game at two apiece with a nifty move, bouncing the puck off a Denver defender and into the goal. Smirnov had no teammate to pass to, so he stuffed the puck into a defender that was sliding into the crease to try to help his goalie.
Denver took a 3-2 lead in the second period on a power-play goal by Troy Terry. It added two other goals for a 5-2 lead heading into the second intermission.
The final period saw PSU with a 5-minute power-play but it was unable to take advantage. With just under seven minutes to play James Gobetz cut the Denver lead to 5-3 and the PSU crowd inside US Bank Arena had one more burst of support to give to its team.
Penn State played valiantly to the end, but Denver scored an empty-net goal, Troy Terry’s third of the game, to extend the lead to 6-3 with just over two minutes to play. It was not the way that the team would have hoped the game would go, but it is hard to imagine that anyone involved with the Penn State team is disappointed.
Penn State got the first early chances to score when Dylan Richard hit the post with a wrist shot from the slot. Moments later the Lions had another solid scoring chance but Denver goalie Tanner Jaillet was able to hold steady for the save.
The next time down the ice Pioneers showed why they are the top seed in the tournament. Jarid Lukosevicius got the goal for Denver. The switch in momentum had the Penn State crowd inside US Bank Arena a little bit quiet in the minutes following the setback.
The fans got their voices back at the stoppage in play for the first television timeout with 13:54 on the first period clock. Unfortunately it didn’t produce the results on the ice that they were hoping for, as Denver added a second goal by Adam Plant a minute later to take a 2-0 lead.
There were a few quality scoring chances in the minutes that followed but no goals for Penn State. With 5:34 remaining in the opening period PSU took the first penalty of the game when Trevor Hamilton was sent to the penalty box for hooking. The disadvantage proved to be on the Denver side, as Nikita Pavlychev scored a short-handed goal. Pavlychev had a 2 on 1 break Ricky DeRosa, the pair was patient with the play and it resulted in a 2-1 game with five minutes left in the period. It also caused the Lions’ fans to get activated in the stands, regaining the advantage in terms of noise as well as cutting the lead in half.
Nate Sucese was called for interference in the closing seconds of the period. The referees reviewed the play to check whether Sucese would be given more than just a two-minute penalty for the play, which would have been devastating for the Lions. The penalty was deemed worthy of just two minutes, giving Denver an advantage to begin the second period, but not the 5 or 10 minute penalty that could have changed the game completely.
The Lions were able to kill the penalty and before the dust could settle, the lines getting back to a regular rotation, tied the game with a goal by Denis Smirnov. Smirnov took the puck into the Denver zone and bounced it off a defender for the score.
For the third time in the game the Lions were called for a penalty. Dylan Richard was sent to the sin bin for two minutes for roughing. Penn State had a couple of short-handed scoring attempts, but the final one led to a Denver 2 on 1 breakaway that they finished to take a 3-2 lead with 13:30 left in the second period.
Denver was called for its first penalty of the game with 8:47 left in the second period, sending the Lions on the power-play. The penalty came and went without a score but it gave PSU a chance to turn momentum in their favor. For the next few minutes the action was mostly on Denver’s side of the ice.
It was the Pioneers that would score next, however, when Jarid Lukosevicius got his second tally of the game. Soon after the Lions went on the power-play again. Shortly into the advantage PSU was called for interference when Dylan Richard knocked the stick out of a Denver players’ hands. It didn’t take long for the Pioneers to add another goal to the pile as Troy Terry scored his second of the day during the 4 on 4 skating. The teams went to the final intermission with PSU trailing 5-2.
26 seconds into the final period Denver was handed a 5-minute boarding penalty. That gave PSU the chance it needed to get a goal or more while skating with the extra player. The Lions were unable to score during the power-play and what could have been a game-changing advantage went by the wayside.
James Gobetz scored for the Lions to cut the lead to 5-3 late in the period. The goal gave the Lions room to navigate without doing anything too crazy in the final seven minutes of regulation. With 3:34 left in the game goalie Peyton Jones went to the bench so PSU could gain an extra skater.
Denver scored an empty-net goal with 2:14 to play, effectively ending the game and Penn State’s historic season. The PSU crowd was chanting ‘Guy Gadowsky’ and ‘Thank you seniors’ as the clock expired.