Heading into the weekend, Penn State was well aware of the opportunity its series against Ohio State presented.
The Nittany Lions sat just two points back of the Buckeyes for second place in the Big Ten standings, a status that would carry home ice advantage for at least the first two rounds of the Big Ten Tournament. It was also a chance for the Lions to move up from No. 12 in the PairWise rankings against a Buckeyes squad that sat at No. 5.
The Lions performance on Friday night showed that they were not only aware of the opportunity, but ready to take advantage of it.
While Peyton Jones stood on his head, the Lions offense overpowered a stingy Buckeyes defense en route to a 5-2 victory. The win bumped the Lions ahead of the Buckeyes in the Big Ten standings for the time being and moved them up a spot in the PairWise rankings.
How It Happened
A set play gave the Nittany Lions the opening goal of the contest. As Trevor Hamilton walked the blue line, he sent a shot wide of the net. The lively boards of Pegula Ice Arena vaulted the puck back in front, where Denis Smirnov was waiting to tuck the puck into an open net.
Later in the period, Smirnov’s line connected again to double the Lions lead. Nate Sucese gathered the puck in the neutral zone and handed it off to Smirnov as the two broke out on a 2-on-1. As Smirnov sheltered the puck on his way to the net, he dished it to Sucese, who tapped it past an outstretched Sean Romeo.
The two squads traded power play goals through the middle frame. Early in the second period, the Buckeyes cut the lead in half. Just over a minute into their second power play of the game, Mason Jobst chipped a shot over a sprawling Jones.
Just a few minutes later, the Lions converted on a power play of their own, as Evan Barratt banked a sharp-angle shot off Romeo to re-establish the Lions two-goal lead.
Shortly after Barratt’s tally, the Buckeyes went back to the power play, and Jobst made the Lions pay again. The Buckeyes’ captain fired a wrister over the shoulder of Jones for the Buckeyes second power play goal of the night. The Lions had given up just two power play goals on 35 penalty kill attempts over the prior ten games.
Through the remainder of the second period and much of the third, Jones stood on his head to keep the Lions ahead in the game. The sophomore netminder finished the contest with 45 saves, just six saves shy of his career-best 51 against Wisconsin in last season’s Big Ten Tournament championship game. The Nittany Lions did their best to help their goaltender, blocking 23 Buckeye shots during the game. Both coaches lauded Jones’ performance.
“If we didn’t have the start and have Peyton, this could have been a long night,” Guy Gadowsky said. “We need to have a stronger game mentally tomorrow.”
As the third period was winding down, the Lions went back to the power play as Wyatt Ege was called for hooking. Just under a minute into the man advantage, Andrew Sturtz and his patented toe drag rifled a shot that Romeo could not hold onto. The puck squeezed past the redshirt junior and rolled into the back of the net for the insurance tally.
After the Buckeyes pulled Romeo with just over two minutes to play, Barratt closed out the scoring and notched his second goal of the game, sending a long-range shot to the back of the open cage.