Closing out games hasn’t been Penn State’s strong suit this season. The Nittany Lions have watched multiple third-period leads slip away for a multitude of reasons.
As the third period commenced on Friday night with the Nittany Lions clinging to a one-goal lead, Michigan State seemed poised to complete another comeback against the Nittany Lions. Penn State was disorganized in the defensive zone and impotent in the offensive zone.
The Spartans threw everything they could at Peyton Jones, but by sheer luck at times, the puck stayed out. An ill-advised retaliation penalty by Evan Barratt provided the Spartans with a chance to tie the game.
After Penn State’s penalty kill came up large, the Nittany Lions got what they desperately needed: an insurance marker.
While it was far from the prettiest goal, Liam Folkes’ tally midway through the third period settled the Nittany Lions down en route to a 4-2 victory over the Spartans.
“It’s always nice to get the two-goal cushion,” Folkes said.
Midway through the second period, the Nittany Lions netted a pair of quick goals to jump out to a 3-0 lead. The Spartans responded with a pair of their own before the period ended and carried the momentum into the final frame.
The second of those Spartans’ goals could have been especially damaging. On the man advantage, Taro Hirose fanned on a wrist shot. Peyton Jones got his stick on the slow-moving puck, but deflected it over his pad and into the net.
In prior instances, Jones could be prone to letting those soft goals get to his head and throw him off his game.
That wasn’t the case on Friday.
Jones responded to the goal by posting 13 saves in the third period to keep the Nittany Lions in front and preserve the win.
“I thought he came back really focused,” Gadowsky said of his netminder. “Obviously, you’re going to need excellent goaltending at this time of year and I think we got it tonight.”
How It Happened
Midway through the opening period, the Nittany Lions opened the scoring. After Blake Gober’s forecheck forced a turnover behind the Spartans’ net, Sam Sternschein fed Kevin Kerr in the slot. Kerr one timed a shot past Drew DeRidder.
Early in the second period, the Nittany Lions netted a pair of quick goals to extend their lead to three. Nikita Pavlychev found the rebound of Brandon Biro’s shot and slid a wraparound past DeRidder. As Biro was hooked on his chance, the Nittany Lions immediately went to a power play following Pavlychev’s goal.
Although the Nittany Lions were 0-for-3 heading into the opportunity and hadn’t looked threatening, Nate Sucese buried a one timer from the left circle.
Five minutes later, the Spartans got on the board. After Cole Hults turned the puck over in the defensive zone, the Spartans’ top line connected on a tic-tac-toe play as Patrick Khodorenko went bar down on Peyton Jones.
Just under five minutes later, the Spartans took advantage of their fourth power play of the night. Ten seconds into the man advantage, Taro Hirose sent a soft shot on net that gave Jones some trouble. The junior netminder got his stick on the shot, but the puck caromed over his pad and into the net.
As the third period began, the Spartans threw everything they could at Jones and the Nittany Lions and appeared well on their way to completing the comeback. But after killing off an ill-advised penalty to Evan Barratt, the Nittany Lions reclaimed a two-goal lead midway through the period.
After Kris Myllari’s wrister from the point went wide, Liam Folkes picked up the puck in the corner and quickly slung it toward the net. As DeRidder was sliding to get back in position, the puck ricocheted off his pad and into the net.