Preview: Penn State Seeks Second B1G Title & Another NCAA Tournament Bid Against Notre Dame

By Sam Watson on March 22, 2019 at 11:40 am
Paul DeNaples Penn State

Linsey Fagan - Roar Lions Roar

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I don't know what to do with my hands.

Notre Dame
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
21-13-3 (11-11-2 B1G)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
8 p.m. EST –SATURDAY, MAR. 23
Compton Family Ice Arena
SOUTH BEND, IN.
BTN | GAMETRACKER
Read: Penn State Upsets Ohio State

After beating Wisconsin in three games two weekends ago and kicking the tar out of Ohio State last weekend, Penn State is headed to South Bend to try to claim its second Big Ten championship and third-straight trip to the college hockey dance. 

Notre Dame's Path to the B1G Title

Notre Dame came into the Big Ten tournament as the two seed, and it drew Michigan State at home in the quarterfinals. Cale Morris pitched two shutouts, and the Irish swept Michigan State with 1-0 and 2-0 wins. Mike O'Leary scored the lone goal during the first game of the series, and Pierce Crawford, and Graham Slaggert scored the two goals during game two of the series.

Notre Dame and Minnesota faced off in the Big Ten semifinals last weekend, and the result left the usually salty Minnesota fans even saltier. Cam Morrison for the Irish and Sampo Ranta for the Gophers each scored in the first period. Neither team could score again during regulation, so the game went to overtime. And then came the controversy. Thirty seconds into OT, the Minnesota captain was called for this really bad at best (and potentially conspiratorial at worst) penalty: 

There is no denying the Notre Dame's pack-it-in-and-let-your-goalie-be-your-best-player style has made them a good team, but if ever a team was going to truly threaten their style of play, it'd be Penn State. The Great and Powerful Ben Jones pointed out that Notre Dame has been playing things quite close to the chest in its last few playoff games, and its results during the Big Ten Tournament haven't exactly been awe-inspiring on the offensive front (it's a little surprising that Michigan State wasn't able to score in 120 minutes of hockey). But a win is a win in the playoffs, and the Irish have proven time and time again that they will stay composed no matter the situation.

Keys to a Penn State Win

Last weekend, Penn State played its best game since beating Notre Dame 9-1 way back in December. The Lions methodically broke down Ohio State in the offensive zone and were able keep the Buckeyes from giving Peyton Jones more than he could handle. When the defense did slip just a bit, Jones was there to make a couple huge saves to keep Ohio State from grabbing hold of the momentum. Going into Saturday's game, the same recipe from is all anyone can ask for.

Doing the simple things like clearing the puck, being strong through the neutral zone, not taking stupid penalties, and capitalizing on power plays make the difference in big games like this. Specifically, the Lions will need to crowd Cale Morris. Shooting from distance rarely works against him, so the forwards will need to park themselves in the house and pounce on every single second chance opportunity they get. Defensively is where the questions lie for this game. If the defense can be strong in front of the net, make sure that pucks get out of the zone, and keep Notre Dame forwards from getting one-on-one chances, Penn State will have the edge. 

Predictions

Kaitlyn: This is for all the marbles, folks, so I expect the Nittany Lions to come out riding the high from the Ohio State upset with their proverbial hair on fire. Like in all playoff-style situations in hockey, especially in the college ranks, goaltending is usually the deciding factor, and the battle between Peyton Jones and Cale Morris is setting up to be one for the ages. Both Penn State and Notre Dame have capable offenses, but I think the trick to conference victory will come in the defensive end, and it just so happens that the Lions' defense has been playing its best hockey of the season. If the blueliners can stand tall and Jones can string together a couple of huge saves, the offense will take care of the rest. Penn State wins 5-3. Book those NCAA tourney tickets. 

Sam: I want this one so bad, and I have a really good feeling about this game. Penn State is playing its best hockey exactly at the right time, and that's what's giving me such a great feeling going in to Saturday. As far as the game goes, I don't think Notre Dame will be able to slow down Evan Barratt, Alex Limoges, and Liam Folkes for 60 minutes, and that line will have an impact on this game. The matchups aren't much better for Notre Dame further down the lines either. Brandon Biro always seems to have some extra stored for big moments like these, and I have a feeling he's going to be the MVP of this game. Notre Dame won't threaten Penn State as much as Ohio State can, but the Irish will not go gently. Peyton Jones will continue his incredible tournament play, and Penn State will hoist its second Big Ten trophy. Penn State 4. Notre Dame 3. 

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