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Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions Knock Off No. 15 Minnesota In Overtime Thriller 4-3

by on February 22, 2015 6:00 AM

"Just breathe."

That's was PJ Musico's advice to himself as he tried to navigate the final 10 minutes of regulation on Saturday.

And for nine minutes and 40 seconds that advice worked to perfection for Penn State's netminder. But in those final ticks of the clock, Musico looked to his left as the puck slid just out of reach, it allowed Minnesota's Sam Warning tap in an easy goal to tie the game.

The upset bid was on hold, there would be at least five more minutes of stress to get through. Five more minutes of remembering to breathe.

It never made it the full five minutes though, as just 2:13 into that extra period, Luke Juha -- who almost didn't play on Saturday due to bumps and bruises -- rocketed home a shot from the right of the point to give Penn State a 4-3 overtime victory.

And a Pegula Ice Arena that had been holding it's breath for 60 minutes of hockey took their goalies' advice and breathed. It was a collective sigh of relief before letting out a roar that could have chipped the paint in the upper most rafters of the arena. 

Sixty-two minutes earlier and 32 saves before, the upset was far less obvious.

Penn State scored the game's opening goal as it had the previous night. This time it was a Curtis Loik power play tally as he slapped home a rebound in front of net. The game may have only been 7:21 old, but it was a big goal and big chance to knock off the nation's No. 15 ranked team.

Unlike on Friday night, the Nittany Lions added to the early margin. Just five minutes later Penn State added another as a Scott Conway backhand shot dazzled the crowd as he jumped around a defender and slotted it into the back of the net after some fancy stick handling.

But a hockey game is long, and as the Gophers proved on Friday night one period is not a full game. Minnesota tried to prove that true again on Saturday, cutting Penn State's lead to a single goal 8:17 into the second period when Travis Boyd fired home a laser on the man advantage.

Unlike Friday, Penn State punched back on again, this time Scott Conway adding his second of the night just seven minutes later on a 2-on-1 with Eric Scheid.

The celebration was short-lived though. No sooner had the PA Announcer finished awarding the goal than Travis Boyd got his second of the night on the man advantage. The goal came just 37 seconds following Conway's thriller to bring Minnesota back within one and a 3-2 margin. The Gophers didn't want anyone to think they were just going to wilt. And they didn't.

Leading by a goal after 40 minutes took a lot of work, and it was going to take a special kind of effort for Penn State to pull off the win.

And it was a special effort the Nittany Lions got for nearly the entire final 20 minutes of play.

In total Penn State would block 32 shots on the night -- the kind of effort that goes unnoticed until the box score is handed out. Musico's 13 saves in the final period were an indication of the offensive onslaught Minnesota put forth to tie the game.

And for those 19 minutes and 20 seconds the defensive clinic worked, but as Warning tapped home the game tying goal the party in so called Hockey Valley ended.

But just a few minutes later, it was back on in full force.

On paper Penn State improves to 16-10-4 on the year and stays just two points out of first place in the Big Ten with six games left to play.

But more importantly, Penn State took a step forward in proving that this program is for real. Maybe championships aren't in the mix for this season, but Penn State hockey's season of success hasn't been a fluke and the Nittany Lions proved that on Saturday night.

And for the next week or so, they can breathe all they want. 

 

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