It never seemed to be a question of if Denis Smirnov would regain his scoring punch. It was more a matter of when.
Friday night may have answered that question.
Smirnov netted a pair of goals and added a pair of assists as Penn State routed Wisconsin 8-2. The four-point performance marked his first multi-point game of the season.
“He is working hard, and that’s often what happens. It’s funny how that works, in business and sport,” Gadowsky said of Smirnov’s performance. “The harder you work, the more good things happen and I hope it continues.”
That game-breaking ability has been missing from Smirnov’s game this year. His second tally of the night came at a crucial moment in the contest, however.
After the Badgers overcame a two-goal deficit midway through the second period, Smirnov put the Nittany Lions back in front for good. The goal wasn’t the usual display of Smirnov’s talent, however. Instead, Smirnov went hard to the net looking for a rebound, but had the puck bounce off his body and into the net.
Smirnov’s pair opened the flood gates for the Nittany Lions. Barely a minute after Smirnov’s second goal, Cole Hults put the Nittany Lions back up by two. Sam Sternschein added another before the period was over.
Another trio of tallies in the third period gave Penn State six-straight after the Badgers tied it, with Brandon Biro opening and closing the scoring for the Nittany Lions.
“I think momentum is very real in hockey,” Gadowsky said. “It doesn’t always have to be goals that get you going. It can be a save, it can be a great defensive play. When it snowballs on itself, I think you do see things like that.”
The night marked the seventh time the Nittany Lions have put up seven or more goals in a game this season. What made this performance more impressive is that Penn State did it without arguably its best player, Evan Barratt. The sophomore sat out his second straight game after suffering an injury last weekend against Michigan State.
“I think we’re pretty deep. Obviously Evan Barratt has had a great year, as well as his line,” Gadowsky said. “But I also think that when we’re successful we get a lot of scoring from everywhere.”
The Nittany Lions certainly showed their depth on Friday. Along with Smirnov and Biro, Cole Hults and Nate Sucese posted multi-point performances as 12 players picked up a point. Should Barratt miss significant time, that depth will become all the more important.
Barratt’s injury may also give other players a shot at more important roles. In Barratt’s place, Adam Pilewicz lined up alongside Alex Limoges and Liam Folkes. While Pilewicz did not post a point, he fired five shots on net and nearly capitalized on a number of chances.
How It Happened
After hitting a pair of posts early, the Nittany Lions opened the scoring just over 10 minutes into the game. Off an offensive zone faceoff, Brandon Biro was left all alone in front of Daniel Lebedeff. Biro made a quick move and lifted a backhand shot past the Badgers goalie.
Just a few minutes later, Denis Smirnov doubled the Nittany Lions’ lead with his first goal in 11 games. Smirnov hopped on the rebound of Kevin Kerr’s point shot and knocked the puck into an open net.
Just under eight minutes into the middle frame, the Badgers cut the Nittany Lions lead in half. Mick Messner found a loose puck at the Penn State blue line and fired a wrist shot into the top corner of the net.
Four minutes later, the Badgers knotted the game at two. Wyatt Kalynuk sent a soft wrist shot from the point through a crowd. Peyton Jones didn’t see the shot until it was sliding through his legs and into the net.
The Nittany Lions responded quickly. Just two minutes after the tying goal, Smirnov’s second of the night put the Nittany Lions back on top. Smirnov went to the net as Alex Stevens wound up a wrist shot. Lebedeff made the initial stop, but the rebound ricocheted in off Smirnov’s body.
Barely a minute later, the Nittany Lions were back on top by two. Following a Smirnov dump in, Cole Hults fired a quick shot from the side boards that eluded Lebedeff and floated into the net.
With the middle frame winding down, Sam Sternschein took a stretch pass from Cole Hults for a partial breakaway. Sternschein fired a shot over the glove of Lebedeff for his eighth goal of the season.
Early in the third period, Nate Sucese extended the Nittany Lions lead. Sucese picked up the puck in the neutral zone and flew down the boards past a Wisconsin defender and fired a shot far side past Lebedeff.
A minute later, Chase Berger put the Nittany Lions up five as he jammed home a rebound. The goal spelled the end of the night for Lebedeff, who was pulled after allowing seven goals on 47 shots in just over two periods worth of work.
Midway through the third, Biro picked up his second of the night, jumping on an errant pass by the Badgers and firing a shot top corner.