No. 15 Penn State Outlasts No. 5 Minnesota in Double OT, Advancing to the Big Ten Championship Game

By Nick Polak on March 18, 2017 at 12:11 am
Denis Smirnov fires a shot.

via Heather Weikel

Box Score
  1st Period 2nd Period 3rd Period OT 2OT Final
Penn State 1 1 1 0 1 4
Minnesota 2 0 1 0 0 3

When it was determined that Penn State would face off with Minnesota for what seemed like the 1,000th time this season in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, we here at Roar Lions Roar were understandably concerned. In four tries throughout the regular season, the Nittany Lions weren't able to defeat the Golden Gophers despite some very strong efforts. On Friday night, Guy Gadowsky's squad finally solved the puzzle that was Minnesota, taking down the No. 5 team in the country by a final of 4-3 in double overtime to advance to their first-ever Big Ten tournament championship game.

It was a back-and-forth game all night, as most games between these two teams seem to be. The teams traded positions on the scoreboard, traded momentous rushes in the offensive end- you name it, both teams had it going at one point or another.

Despite that, there was no doubt that Penn State was the better team in this game. The Lions were ferocious in the offensive zone, peppering Minnesota goalie Eric Schierhorn with shot after shot. Though it didn't lead to a decision in regulation, the Gophers were clearly shaken by the relentless Penn State attack.

Both overtime periods followed the same basic script as the first three periods of the game. Penn State dominated possession, but both teams still benefitted from multiple quality chances. The turning point of the game, however, came when Minnesota's Leon Bristedt took a holding penalty (the first penalty called in either overtime period) to give Penn State the power play opportunity they needed. After a hustle play from Denis Smirnov to get the puck, the crafty freshman threaded a pass through three Golden Gopher sticks to a wide open Erik Autio who banged home the game-winner.

With the emotional win, the Nittany Lions are off to their first-ever Big Ten thampionship game, where a familiar foe awaits them. Bring it on, Wisconsin.

Scoring Summary
Team Scoring Time (Pd.)
PSU Nikita Pavlychev
T. Hamilton, DeRosa
1:05 (1)
MIN Rem Pitlick
Romanko, Norman
7:20 (1)
MIN Justin Kloos
Sheehy, Pitlick
9:55 (1)
PSU Alec Marsh
Berger, Sturtz
3:48 (2)
PSU Dylan Richard (PP)
Sturtz, Pedrie
1:00 (3)
MIN Jack Sadek
3:42 (3)
PSU Erik Autio
Smirnov, Sturtz
13:33 (2OT)

Penn State has a lot to be happy about as a result of this one, but perhaps one of the biggest positive takeaways is how they scored their goals on Friday. In each of the three regulation periods, they found the back of the twine within the first four minutes after puck drop. For a team that was frequently victimized by early-period goals throughout its mid-to-late season lull, seeing it reverse that script in a big way was very encouraging moving forward.

The two teams seesawed on the scoreboard all night long, making for a heart attack-inducing night for Nittany Lion and Golden Gopher fans alike.

After Alec Marsh put home his randomly deflected birthday gift of a goal to tie the game at two, the Penn State attack picked up. With just a few seconds left in the second period, the exhausted Gopher defenders committed a costly penalty, giving the Lions a power play to start the final regulation frame. Just one minute into the third, Andrew Sturtz used some brilliant body positioning to feed Dylan Richard an easy pass in front of the open net, and the senior made it count. Despite the amount of time left on the clock, it was starting to feel more and more like the Nittany Lions were finally going to have their revenge.

However, Minnesota's Jack Sadek had other ideas. Sadek took the pass off the Lettieri faceoff win and fired a puck through several Nittany Lions past a helpless Peyton Jones to tie things up.

The Penn State attack continued to fire upon Schierhorn and the Minnesota defense, but just couldn't find the last pass they needed, sending the game to overtime.

Though an extra frame began, the feel of the game didn't change. Minnesota had a few chances and put some good shots on net, but Penn State again controlled the flow of the game, keeping the puck in the offensive zone for much of the early part of the period.

Keeping with the game's theme, Minnesota's time came. The Gophers picked up the pressure around the middle of the first overtime period. Thankfully for the Nittany Lions, Peyton Jones came to play and kept his team alive with multiple, beautiful saves on point-blank chances. Both teams clearly began to fatigue as the period drew to a close, as both teams slowed their pace significantly.

The second overtime period was much of the same, though the Gophers nearly had an easy breakaway opportunity that could have won the game. Were it not for defenseman Erik Autio (more on him in a moment), the Lions could very well have lost this one.

After Autio's heroics, Minnesota's Bristedt left the officials not choice but to call a holding penalty. While on the man advantage, Sturtz found a puck along the edge and forced his way into the zone. In the process, he was taken down by two Gopher defenders. As the goal-scoring phenom hit the ice, Smirnov saw the loose puck behind the two oblivious defenders and made his move. The Nittany Lions' all-time leader for points in a single season then danced in and slid a beautiful, picturesque pass to a crashing Erik Autio who had nothing left to do put tap in the game-winner.

With the win, Penn State almost surely locked up their spot in the NCAA Tournament, as well as sealing their place in the Big Ten championship game. The Lions will look to defeat the Wisconsin Badgers for the fourth time this season, and punch an automatic ticket to the tournament, leaving any committee decisions out altogether.

It will be interesting to see how these young Lions are able to battle both their fatigue from this game and the excitement surrounding their first title game appearance. Be sure to lend your support through your television screens, and tune in on Saturday night at 8:00 p.m. ET, to see Penn State go after their first Big Ten championship.