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Penn State Hockey: Last Minute Goal Dooms Nittany Lions 4-3 To Wisconsin

by on February 14, 2020 10:55 PM

Pretty much everything about Penn State hockey's 2019-20 season has been an exercise in whether or not you choose to view the events that nearly happened as a positive or a negative. Self-Inflicted or bad luck, proof of being close or a showcase in how being close and actually being, are two different things.

For example, as Wisconsin skated in with a 4-on-2, scoring the game's winning goal with 1:04 to play you could see this as the product of a few things. A bad change, a bad bounce, or maybe just Wisconsin players making something out of nothing. Stuff happens.

On the other side of the coin you could have seen that sequence as the culmination of failures. A failure by Penn State to put the puck in the net despite shelling Wisconsin's defense for the better part of the entire third period. A goal here or there and this game would have been over long before that odd man rush. The rush may have never happened at all.

Or it could have been an ongoing string of metal errors that have plagued Penn State's good performances at the worst moments. A poor change gave up an overtime goal weeks ago, poor starts have hurt the Nittany Lions in their biggest moments. Penalties and miscues are a way of life in sports, but for the best teams, those mistakes do not dictate the thin margin of error between winning and losing.

Whatever the case, the puck found the back of the net.

All of this in spite of starting slow and falling behind 2-0 in the first period before Liam Folkes scored to cut the deficit in half. Then it was 3-1, Folkes scoring again to bring the Nittany Lions back within one.

A second period rocket by defenseman Paul DeNaples tied the game, erasing nearly all of the Badgers' momentum with it. The Nittany Lions looked like a team closing in on a conference title and another NCAA Tournament bid. If you had been waiting to see Penn State roll back into its potential form, the opening 15 minutes of the third period were just that.

And yet, no goals. 3-3 on the scoreboard, the clock ticking on the wall, the old adage to never let a lesser team hang around ringing oh so true as time slowly melted away.

Penn State has hit the post twice in two different overtime games. Scoring those goals, or failing to does not drastically change the inherit characteristics of this particular team. One which has given up poorly timed odd man rushes and mistakes that have plagued the Nittany Lions perhaps disproportionately to their actual play.

It makes for a confounding team to watch, one that seems prone to mental hiccups and has lacked a potency -for whatever reason- of the past and with the benefit of many of those same players. The Nittany Lions have improved their defense and have had perhaps their best season of goaltending ever only to lose anyway. The reason, both self-inflicted or bad luck is a matter of the eye test. In reality it's a bit of both.

In a startling reality check, Penn State has won a single Big Ten game in regulation since mid December.

Whatever the reasons might be, Penn State is approaching a new first in program history: the season that felt like it could have, and probably should have been, and yet wasn't.

But with three regular season games to go, a Big Ten Tournament and whatever lies beyond, there's no reason the pucks can't go Penn State's way just in time for when it matters.

Then again, the chances of that happening depend greatly on why you think they aren't in the first place. A question seemingly nobody has an answer to, a telling fact in and of itself.

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