The scenario is far from foreign for Penn State.
The Nittany Lions simply need to win. After a quarterfinal victory over Wisconsin, Penn State now faces a single-game semifinal against top-seeded Ohio State.
A win keeps the Nittany Lions’ season alive. A loss surely puts it to bed.
With just a 0.1 percent chance of receiving an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, Guy Gadowsky’s squad will need to upset the Buckeyes in Columbus on Sunday and top either Minnesota or Notre Dame in the Big Ten Tournament Championship to make it three-straight appearances in the national tournament.
Fortunately, the Nittany Lions are experienced — and successful — in these desperate situations.
Unfortunately, they’ll face off against a well-rested team, as the Buckeyes had the benefit of an opening round bye, having wrapped up the regular season title in the second-to-last weekend of the year.
The Nittany Lions have just one win in four games against the Buckeyes this year. That one win, however, did come at Value City Arena. The most recent matchup between the two in mid-January resulted in a Buckeye sweep in Hockey Valley.
“We weren’t a very mentally tough team that weekend,” Gadowsky said of his team’s performance that weekend.
The emotional series featured absurd penalty numbers, something both teams will have to avoid in the single-elimination scenario. Ohio State’s power play ranks 16th in the nation, while Penn State’s cracks the top five.
While both teams have a powerful offense, the Nittany Lions have had far more trouble on the defensive side of the puck than the Buckeyes. Much of that can be attributed to goalie Tommy Nappier.
The sophomore has split time this season with Sean Romeo, but has far superior numbers. Nappier ranks second in the nation in save percentage and third in goals-against average. With goaltending being so vital this time of year, having a reliable netminder like Nappier can be the difference.
The Nittany Lions know well the difference a goaltender can make. Peyton Jones has a conference record seven wins in the Big Ten Tournament and has been the backbone of the team’s push for the postseason the past two years. For the Nittany Lions to make it three NCAA Tournament appearances in a row, Jones will have to be his historic tournament self.