One down, one to go.
The Nittany Lions didn’t have the prettiest effort, but they got the job done. The Lions are rarely outshot, but with a deep offense and clutch goalie, beat Minnesota 5-3 with five different goal-scorers. Peyton Jones only allowed one goal at even strength and continued his postseason hot streak that hearkened from 2017, and now the opening series of the Big Ten Tournament is 1-0 Lions.
Penn State’s opening minutes were a little twitchy, though. Pucks were hopping over sticks, guys were overskating their assignments, and they were trying to force some plays. They came out with a ton of energy, which surely was the gameplan, but that also resulted in more than a few early turnovers in Minnesota’s favor. Though neither team looked like it was out-possessing the other early, Penn State wasn’t able to bury any of its chances on a powerplay. Minnesota cashed in just 11 minutes into the game. Casey Mittelstadt got the scoring started with a wrist shot through traffic, and his team took the first lead. Toward the end of the period, special teams continued to hold the advantage as Cole Hults tied things up on a snipe after feeds from Smirnov and Limoges. With 1:35 to play in the opening period, the Gophers’ Darian Romanko launched Erik Autio into the boards and himself to the showers. Penn State began its five-minute powerplay and carried the tie into intermission.
Nate Sucese finished a beautiful cross-ice saucer from Kris Myllari just under three minutes into the powerplay, and though it was the lone goal of the long man-advantage, the beaut gave the team a 2-1 lead. A few minutes later, a Minnesota man-advantage gave Andrew Sturtz one of the best chances of the game after he danced through two defenders but fired the puck wide. Right after its powerplay concluded, Penn State turnovers behind its own net teed the puck up for Scott Reedy, who didn’t miss and tied the game. Despite getting outskated for the second half of the period, Penn State was able to retake the lead after Denis Smirnov circled around Minnesota’s zone, goaded the Gophers into thinking he'd pass it, but eventually fired the puck from the goal-line and snuck it past Mat Robson. Less than a minute later, Sturtz torched everyone on the ice, broke some ankles, and potted his own tally for a 4-2 lead before the team skated off the second period ice to a standing ovation.
It’s a good thing the two Nittany Lion stars put the team on their back in the last minute because the Golden Gophers dominated the first half of the third period. It took an Evan Barratt breakaway and subsequent powerplay to shift momentum back to the Penn State, and even then, it was shortlived after James Robinson hit Tyler Sheehy into the boards and earned a five-minute major and ejection. Sheehy was assessed a minor, so the teams played 4-on-4 for two minutes then Penn State was shorthanded for three. Just before the penalty kill could finish its job, Mittelstadt went upstairs for his second goal of the night and cut the lead in half. Penn State bent but didn’t break at the end of the game, and an Evan Barratt empty-netter cemented the 5-3 final.
- After getting dunked on multiple times last weekend, Ryan Lindgren didn’t have it much easier today. When he was announced as a starter, I spied more than a few members of the Roar Zone doing the crybaby face, and when he had the puck with Barratt on the ice, Barratt would call for the pass. And he just got traded.
- Speaking of the kid: Evan Barratt has to be Penn State's most improved player since the beginning of the season. His game is somewhere above confident and below cocky, and his swagger has me starting to think that he’ll have the best NHL career of any Nittany Lion to date.
- Nikita Pavlychev unexpectedly missed this game and Brett Murray took his place. The Sabres’ draft pick showed some improvement from the few times we’ve seen him, and despite some turnovers, really held his own centering the fourth line and especially forechecking.
- This is just me thinking out loud (in text?) because I don’t know the answer, but can suspensions happen by Saturday night? In the regular season and in previous Big Ten Tournaments, the news comes at the start of the next week, but with the new format and multiple playoff games in a weekend, look out for potential news late tomorrow about Romanko and/or Robinson.
- The Nittany Lions were outshot 35-30 tonight and were outshot in the first and third periods. It was an uncharacteristic way to play and even more uncharacteristic way to win, but even though the quantity of shots wasn’t there, the quality was. Other than Smirnov’s goal from a tight angle and Barratt’s empty-netter, Penn State’s tallies were n i c e.
- Penn State will go for the sweep tomorrow at 7 p.m. on BTN2Go (good viewing for after the basketball semifinals!). If Minnesota wins, the decisive game 3 will be on Sunday.