Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions Advance, Knock Off Michigan 4-1 In Big Ten Tournament
Penn State hockey removed the formalities of big game drama and used a three-goal first period to upend Michigan 4-1 on Thursday night in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Just a week removed from being swept by the Wolverines, the Nittany Lions continued to play their fast, shot-happy style of play to look for the early lead. Despite a few solid opportunities in close, Michigan netminder Zack Nagelvoort stood tall in goal.
It wasn't until Brandon Biro's twisting and turning moves behind the net and a quick pass to Liam Folkes that the tie was broken. Folkes taking the pass and slipping it between Nagelvoort and the post from nearly pointblank range. The goal came on Penn State's recently struggling power play just over 10 minutes into regulation.
Just three minutes later Penn State struck again, Denis Smirnov threading a cross-ice pass to Nate Sucese for his 44th point on the year and Sucese's 15th goal of the season.
The final nail came with 29 seconds to go in the opening frame, David Goodwin sniping a pass blocker side to put Penn State up 3-0 and all but deflate a Michigan team that has struggled much of the season.
From there it was largely a matter of time, Michigan pushed but failed to find many quality chances and Vince Pedrie's goal from the top left circle through traffic made it 4-0 just 1:03 into the middle period. The Wolverines scored shortly thereafter but the goal was correctly disallowed following a review that showed the play had come into the zone offsides. It wasn't until just over nine minutes remained in the second period that Michigan found the back of the net on the man advantage.
But from there Penn State controlled much of the pace of play and Michigan's confidence seemingly ticked lower and lower as the clock continued to do the same. Despite that fact the Wolverines managed 31 shots on goal to Penn State's 34 as Peyton Jones made 12 third period saves.
The game itself was in many ways unremarkable. Penn State has dispatched lesser teams on a fairly regular basis throughout the year and nothing about Thursday's game was much different.
It's the meaning of that win though that could potentially be far more memorable. As Penn State heads into a Friday night meeting with Minnesota, a Big Ten Title trip on the line, the Nittany Lions may have already locked up an NCAA Tournament at-large bid.
Guy Gadowsky and company won't know that for sure until the selection committee announces the field on Sunday which makes Friday night yet again host to one of the bigger games for the young program's history. A win would almost certainly lock up the bid without any stresses on Sunday, and more directly -- a Big Ten title shot.
Whatever the case might be, it seems as though Penn State will have to do it without leading goal scorer Andrew Sturtz who sustained an apparent upper body injury during Thursday night's game and did not return. His status will likely remain a mystery until Friday night as well as his status for any potential NCAA Tournament appearances.