No.13 Penn State (16-13-5) completed the sweep of No.9 Minnesota and will host a three-game series next weekend in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament. The Gophers will have a couple of days to go back to Minnesota, but then will have to return to Hockey Valley for the series.
Guy Gadowsky’s team played its best two games of the season when it needed it most. Rather than going to Mariucci Arena, home of the Gophers and a location where no Big Ten team has ever won two games in one weekend, Gadowsky’s team will play at home in front of the Roar Zone and a capacity crowd at the Pegula Ice Arena.
After going without a win for over a month, Penn State finished the season with three consecutive wins and is now on the happy side of the NCAA tournament bubble. Penn State’s ranking in the Pairwise will vary over the next couple of weeks, but for now the Lions are in position to gain an at-large bid. Playing the next two, three if necessary, at home will only help increase the Lion’s chances of moving up in the national standings.
The teams will face off in Hockey Valley on Friday to kick off the Big Ten Tournament best-of-three series.
How It Happened
The teams came ready to play from the opening puck drop. Minnesota got the first three shots on goal after taking several minutes to get its first shot on goal Friday night. It was Penn State’s first shot on goal that got the scoring started. Liam Folkes grabbed a loose puck and made a nice pass just before getting dropped to the ice then Alex Limoges took the shot and got it past Mat Robson for the early lead just a little more than three minutes into the game.
Limoges is finishing his freshman season strong, scoring a goal in each of the last three games and making his presence known on all ends of the ice. Folkes continues to make what are sometimes called the ‘little plays’ that get his teammates chances to make the big plays. Rem Pitlick had a chance to even up the game for Minnesota shortly after but Peyton Jones was able to make the save on an odd-man rush.
The teams began to get very physical with 11:15 left to go in the opening period. Each side had tough, clean hits and then Minnesota was called for a penalty at the end of a contentious shift.
The Gophers were able to kill the penalty but in the seconds after, with Penn State holding the puck in the zone, Denis Smirnov got the second goal of the period for Guy Gadowsky’s team.
The news didn’t get much better for Minnesota, as it was called for another penalty with six minutes left before the first intermission. Kevin Kerr got a shot on goal midway through the power-play but Robson was able to keep it out of the net. It was the only serious threat during the advantage for Penn State.
With 2:30 to play Evan Barratt went to the penalty box, giving the Gophers an extra skater. The Lions were able to kill the penalty and hold on to the 2-0 lead at the first break.
Just one minute into the second period Andrew Sturtz was called for a penalty, giving Minnesota its second chance on the power-play. The penalty came and went with only a couple of shots on goal. Minnesota had the lead in shots on goal 15-14 just three minutes into the second period, matching its shot total the previous night in just over one period.
Penn State was next to go on the power-play. Alec Marsh got hit with a high stick to the head but the Gophers were given just a two-minute penalty. The referees reviewed the play but decided against handing out additional time for the hit. The Lions had a few scoring chances late in the penalty but were unable to get another one past Mat Robson.
Nate Sucese made a nice play that resulted in an open shot for Brandon Biro, and a 3-0 Penn State lead.
Penn State was able to kill a penalty shortly after to maintain a 3-0 lead midway through the game. Nikita Pavlychev was called for a penalty with seven minutes left in the second period and for the fourth time on the night, the Gophers skated 5 on 4. Peyton Jones made several great saves, aided by his defense, to keep the three-goal lead for the Lions until the penalty expired.
Minnesota played the next few minutes as though it was going to be their last chance to get back into the game. Shift after shift maintained a wave of energy that seemed determined to score. It happened with two minutes left to play in the period. Mike Szmatula beat Peyton Jones to cut the Penn State lead to 3-1.
With 35 seconds to go before the intermission Penn State went on the power-play. The penalty carried over to the next period but the Gophers were able to kill it off.
Just two minutes came off the game clock and Minnesota once again was skating with 4 against 5. It didn’t take long for Alex Limoges to score his second goal of the night.
Minnesota played as though it was ready to head back home to lick its wounds for a few days before returning for the Big Ten Tournament for the following few minutes. Brent Gates added a second goal to cut the lead to 4-2 with just over five minutes to play. The score energized the Gophers and the closing minutes of the game were very hard fought on both sides.
It wasn’t enough as James Robinson added an empty-net goal to ice the game 5-2.