Penn State (14-13-5) ended an eight-game streak without a win just in time to save its post-season hopes. The team will head back to State College with a chance to win its way into home-ice advantage for the first round of the Big Ten tournament. It will take two wins versus the Gophers, a monumental task, but the possibility of having additional games at Pegula Ice Arena in the post-season remains alive.
After a strong showing in the opening period, Penn State took control with a dominating effort in the second period. A penalty that led to a power-play goal for Michigan State gave the Spartans a comeback chance midway through the final period, cutting the lead to 3-2 in favor of the Lions. Penn State was able to hang on thanks to solid play in net by Peyton Jones.
The Lions will host Minnesota in the final two games of the regular-season next weekend. The Gophers have 33 Big Ten points compared to the Lions’ 28, so there is no margin for error, Penn State must win both games to clinch further play at home this year. The series will have serious conference and national implications and both games will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
How It Happened
The Lions came out looking ready to play at the start of the game, unlike Friday night’s performance. After a couple of minutes of careful play the game opened up and the teams skated end to end with an up-tempo pace.
At the five-minute mark Penn State took the first penalty when Alec Marsh was called for the infraction. The Lions were able to kill it off and Andrew Sturtz had a quality chance for a short-handed goal as the penalty expired. A couple of minutes later Trevor Hamilton went to the box with a tripping call and Michigan State had the advantage once again. And once again the Lions were able to kill it off.
The result of the back-to-back penalties was that the game was tilted in favor of the Spartans for a majority of the first half of the opening period. With 8:36 to go before intermission Penn State got the extra skater for the first time.
Nikita Pavlychev missed an open net off a rebound by Denis Smirnov but later on the next shift Chase Berger got the power-play goal.
Kevin Kerr and Andrew Sturtz assisted on the play and it was the 100th career point for Sturtz. The lead didn’t last long as Michigan State tied it up with a clean breakaway and goal by Brody Stevens.
Later in the period Peyton Jones faced another breakaway but the Spartans were unable to score. With 2:12 left in the period Nikita Pavlychev was taken to the ice. Pavlychev was given a penalty for embellishment and Michigan State lost a man so the teams skated 4 on 4.
Andrew Sturtz scored a goal with 17.7 left in the period to give the Lions a much-needed 2-1 lead heading to the locker rooms.
The second period favored the Lions. Andrew Sturtz continued a strong effort from the first period with an inspiring effort in his first couple of shifts. The momentum was on Penn State’s side and shortly after Alex Limoges redirected a Kevin Kerr shot from the point for a 3-1 lead. It was a great display of hands by the freshman forward Limoges, and a very important goal for the team.
A couple of minutes later Michigan State was given an extra skater but Nate Sucese had a great chance to score short-handed, a clean breakaway. The Lions killed the penalty at the midway point of the second period and then went on a power-play soon afterwards. The penalty came and went without a goal but the Lions had a few quality chances to score.
The advantage continued to be with the Lions for the remainder of the period. At times the pressure of Penn State stifled Spartan hopes of putting together anything offensively. With 2:25 to go Trevor Hamilton took a penalty to give Michigan State an extra skater but it didn’t translate to a clear advantage. Nate Sucese had a chance to score and Nikita Pavlychev got a clean breakaway short-handed. Neither play resulted in a goal but it aided in the Lions killing the penalty.
Penn State continued to play well in the final period. With thirteen minutes left in the game the Spartans got a glimmer of hope with a power-play due to a Cole Hults holding penalty. During a very lengthy period with the goalie pulled on the delayed penalty, Peyton Jones made several amazing saves. Under NCAA rules, had Michigan State scored during the delayed penalty, it would have still got the two minute advantage. Instead the Spartans scored less than a minute into the power-play to cut the lead to 3-2.
Michigan State used the goal to make a run, controlling tempo for a couple of minutes. The Lions regained their footing and with five minutes to play it appeared that the Spartans were running out of time.
Andrew Sturtz hit the goalpost on a breakaway chance to ice the game with four minutes to play. With 2:46 to play Michigan State was called for too many men on the ice, giving the Lions an extra skater just as the Spartans may have been thinking of pulling its goalie for an extra skater of its own.
Peyton Jones had to make a point-blank save on a 2 on 1 break with two minutes to play.
A goal in that spot could have crushed the Lions’ not only in the game but also for the remainder of the season. At times Jones has let in a soft goal but in moments such as that, it is clear that the sophomore goalie can also save a game.
The Spartans pulled the goalie once the penalty expired, with 45 seconds to play. It was able to get a shot on Jones but not a goal, and the game ended 3-2.