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Penn State Hockey: Following 7-4 Loss, Not Much Gets Bigger Than Saturday Night

by on March 03, 2017 11:10 PM

"Tonight was big, tomorrow is bigger."

And that's all Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky needed to say following the Nittany Lions' 7-4 loss to Wisconsin on Friday night.

The stakes on Saturday are about as close to a must-win as Penn State has faced all year, maybe ever. At No. 10 in the PairWise rankings the Nittany Lions are safely inside the Top 16, but have slowly crept toward the bubble since January. In short, with three games in the regular season remaining and at least one in the Big Ten tournament, Penn State likely has to find two victories in those final four games.

Do that and a first-ever NCAA Tournament berth is almost guaranteed.

So no pressure.

As far as Friday night, it was a very familiar affair. Penn State fell behind 9:10 into the opening period despite largely controlling the run of play. A turnover in the defensive zone was all it took for Will Johnson to make the most of his chance, burying it past Peyton Jones who made 25 saves but was not nearly as sharp as usual.

"We get a chance to see how short his memory is," Gadowsky said after the game.

And that is true for all of Penn State's roster, short of Andrew Sturtz who picked up three points on the night, the first of which came just two minutes after Wisconsin's opening goal, tying the game with 12:02 gone by. The contest was tied at 1-1 after the first period.

But it was Seamus Malone putting Wisconsin back ahead 2-1 just 4:58 into the second period before Jason Ford made it 3-1 four minutes later.

At that point it turned into what so many Penn State hockey fans have been used to seeing over the year. A frantic pace where Penn State managed two goals in just under a minute. Nate Sucese blasted home a top-corner shot before Sturtz netted his second of the night.

The 3-3 tie didn't last for long, with Matt Ustaski scoring with 12 seconds to go in the period to give Wisconsin a 4-3 lead heading into the second intermission.

In the final 20 minutes it was Wisconsin scoring first but a quick answer by Dylan Richard cut the lead back to just a goal. As Penn State pressed and managed 16 shots on net, a broken stick would lead to an eventual turnover and offensive rush for Wisconsin. The result was a sixth Badger goal with just over five minutes to play.

An empty net tally sealed the deal four minutes later.

Ask Sturtz and defenseman Vince Pedrie if the Nittany Lions have their backs against the wall on Saturday night and they both answer in unison.

"No."

But there is little doubt that there have been few moments bigger than the one coming on Saturday. A win and a postseason berth is seemingly a formality.

A loss and the road is not impossible, but wins in two of the final three guaranteed games are almost certainly mandatory and far less simple.

So no pressure.

Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Saturday.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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