Penn State’s solid first half of the season has now officially been overturned in the Big Ten standings. With the new format of the conference tournament, the top four teams will host playoff games on their campuses. It looked like the Nittany Lions were locked in one of those spots, but they’ve claimed 1 out of a possible 12 points in the last two weekends, giving the other 11 to teams previously behind them on the table. The lone point came on Saturday, as they tied Wisconsin in regulation before dropping a shootout.
Wisconsin took the previous night’s game 4-2 and Penn State responded appropriately: by being the better team out of the gate and taking an early lead. The Nittany Lions doubled up their opponents in shots during the first period, and the first goal of the game came halfway through when Denis Smirnov took advantage of a steal, froze goalie Jack Berry with a leg kick, then slid the puck to his backhand and past Berry’s leg. Peyton Jones was perfect in the net at the other end of the ice.
The lead was doubled on a slick Brandon Biro penalty shot that looked similar to Liam Folkes’ tournament-winner against Berry last season. Wisconsin got one back just over a minute later, however, with a shorthanded goal by Ryan Wagner. Chase Berger reclaimed a two-goal lead by getting his own rebound right after, and Penn State headed into the second intermission holding a 3-1 lead.
Goals continued to pile up in rapid succession at the start of the third. JD Greenway brought his team back within one before Smirnov responded with his second of the night just 19 seconds later. Linus Weissbach scored for the Badgers to cut down the lead again, and that was all in just the first 5:34. Shots were about even down the stretch, but Max Zimmer ended up being the hero for Wisconsin as he scored the tying goal with less than three minutes to go.
Only one mistake was made by a goalie for the rest of the evening; both were perfect in overtime, but Weissbach beat Jones on the first shot of the shootout, then Jones and Berry stopped everything else they faced. Andrew Sturtz, Denis Smirnov, and Liam Folkes were denied for Penn State, and the home team clinched the extra point for the shootout win.
- Here’s the obligatory Big Ten shootout standings explainer: This game will go down as a tie for NCAA purposes (PairWise, Tournament seedings, etc.) but for the Big Ten standings, Wisconsin earned two points and Penn State got one.
- Wisconsin leapfrogged Penn State and now sits in the coveted third spot. Michigan and Penn State are tied in fourth but the Wolverines own the tie-breaker.
- Brandon Biro had another great game in his ongoing breakout season. He was a solid defensive forward as a freshman but is quietly just under a point-per-game pace playing alongside Smirnov and Sucese in his sophomore campaign.
- Things won’t get any easier for Penn State next weekend as the PairWise No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish travel to Pegula Ice Arena. The Nittany Lions were already swept when they visited South Bend in November, and they’re running out of time to add to their Big Ten point totals. The games this weekend are earlier than usual, too: Friday’s puck drop is slated for 6:30 p.m. (on BTN), and the next day’s game will be at 4 p.m. (no TV)