Penn State (15-13-5) got a win to keep hope alive of hosting a Big Ten Tournament series in Hockey Valley next week. Guy Gadowsky’s team will need to beat Minnesota again tomorrow night to get home-ice advantage in the first round.
The Lions and Gophers will square off next week as the four and five seeds in the Big Ten Tournament. The result of the game on Saturday night will determine where the series is played. Penn State needs three points in conference standings, a win. Minnesota only needs to tie to play at home.
The win over No. 8 Minnesota also helps Penn State’s chances of moving up in the Pairwise Rankings, and getting into position for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
The teams matched goals in an even opening period. The Lions dominated most of the second period but scored just one goal. Another goal by Nate Sucese which would have given the Lions a two-goal lead was overturned after the referees went to the review booth. Penn State took control, scoring three goals in the final frame.
The teams will square off at 7 p.m. on Saturday for the final regular-season match of the season. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network. It is sure to be played in front of a packed Pegula Ice Arena crowd, hoping to cheer the team on to victory, and additional home games this season. It will also have national implications for NCAA tournament positioning.
How It Happened
The teams came out ready to play. There was a skirmish before the opening puck-drop, which was an indicator of things to come. Less than a minute later, Penn State went on a power-play when the Gophers were called for a cross-checking penalty. The Lions were unable to score but Chase Berger had a couple of chances late in the penalty.
Five minutes into the game Penn State had an advantage in shots on goal, 8-0. A couple of minutes later Kris Myllari let a shot go from the blue line and James Robinson redirected it into the net for the early 1-0 Penn State lead.
A little more than eleven minutes into the game Minnesota finally got its first shot. It was a great opportunity for the Gophers, a clean 2 on 0 break, but Peyton Jones was able to stop the shot. Just a couple of minutes later the Gophers broke through on just its third shot to tie the game 1-1.
Penn State had several nice scoring chances with five minutes remaining in the opening period. Alec Marsh almost got a goal and the referees stopped the game to review it before deciding the puck did not cross the goal line. The delay lasted several minutes and served as a timeout for both sides. At the time Penn State led 19-3 in shots on goal and Minnesota was feeling the pressure of the fans inside the Pegula Ice Arena.
The teams played evenly for the remainder of the period. Minnesota had a very late scoring chance, as time was running out, but Peyton Jones was there to make the save. The Gophers’ first and last shot of the period were wide open looks.
Cole Hults had the first quality scoring chance for the Lions in the second period, just three minutes in. Andrew Sturtz found Hults on a cross-ice pass but Minnesota goalie Mat Robson was able to make the save. Nate Sucese drew a hooking call while on a breakaway to give the Lions a power-play. There were plenty of scoring chances for Penn State. For nearly thirty seconds, Robson was without his goalie stick, with the puck in his zone, but no goal was scored with the extra skater.
Nate Sucese and Denis Smirnov had back to back scoring chances midway through the period but again Robson was up to the task, making both saves clean. Nikita Pavlychev found Trevor Hamilton to finally get a second goal to the back of the net.
A couple of minutes later the puck went in the net again but it was ruled that Nate Sucese had kicked the puck into the net. Again the game was stopped for a very long time while the Lions held the momentum advantage. It was clear that the puck was kicked but the referees again took roughly five minutes to figure things out.
Penn State continued to hold the edge after the delay and at the second intermission had a 46-11 shot advantage.
Andrew Sturtz took a penalty just fourteen seconds into the third period. Sturtz hit a player high, with his elbow, getting a critical five-minute major. Sturtz was ejected from the game. After the play the Gophers were given a penalty for retaliating. The teams skated 4 on 4 for two minutes. Denis Smirnov nearly scored before the two minutes expired but instead Minnesota went with a 5 on 4 advantage for three minutes.
The Lions killed the five-minute major, dodging a huge potential mistake by Sturtz. The Gophers could have scored multiple goals during the penalty and turned the tide of the game. Instead the teams were even strength and a television timeout gave Penn State a chance to regroup.
Mat Robson set a career high for saves in a game before the start of the third period, with 45. The 50th shot of the game got past him. It was a great effort by Liam Folkes, to get the puck down the ice and get a shot to give the Lions a 3-1 lead.
Minnesota showed signs of frustration and committed another penalty with 11:07 to play in the game. The Lions were called as well, but went on a 4 on 3 power-play once everything was settled. The penalties came and went without a score. Evan Barratt took matters into his own hands, getting Penn State a much-needed three-goal edge.
The goal took the wind out of Minnesota’s sail and it was clear that the team was content to skate out the rest of the game. Alex Limoges added a goal late and to pile on he went over to the Easy Button poster and gave it a push.
I’m willing to bet that this didn’t set well with Minnesota. The teams were already at one another all night, with so much on the line tomorrow, it should be interesting to watch.