Penn State Hockey: Nittany Lions Tie No. 2 Notre Dame 2-2
With just under two minutes to play in overtime Andrew Sturtz raced down the ice with the puck on his stick. As he closed in on the net he felt a tug from behind, hauled down by a desperate Notre Dame defender. Sturtz was sent flying, crashing towards the boards.
After a pause the referee confirmed what everyone else already knew, pointing towards center ice, a penalty shot awaited.
It seemed that this would be Penn State's moment. A reward for 60 minutes of sound hockey, Notre Dame working out to an early 2-0 lead thanks to a few fortunate bounces and a somewhat shaky Peyton Jones in goal. Sturtz would score late in the period to give Penn State life and confidence.
That confidence showed in the second period, the Nittany Lions controlling much of the pace of play, Jones finding his footing with a few keys saves. Notre Dame threatened, but it was Penn State dictating terms for much of the middle 20 minutes. In the third period it was hard to tell if anyone was breathing, a crowd of 6,221 increasingly tense as the minutes went along.
But the Nittany Lions never broke, they did everything right, they simply could not crack Cale Morris, a wall of pads and gloves, even making a save with his mask in the closing minutes. With nearly 60 shots on goal, it still wasn't enough.
So it seemed, as Sturtz skated toward the puck that Penn State was probably due for a bit of luck, so many pucks coming so close and yet still not finding the back of the net. If nothing else, Penn State's best scorer had been given a free path at the net, it was hard to imagine any other outcome.
But Morris imagined it, tracking the puck as Sturtz swept left to right, reaching out a pad to stop the puck and with it Penn State's best chance to knock of No.2 in the land.
The result may prove to be prophetic, nearly a year ago to the day Denis Smirnov did the same with minutes to play in a similar season-defining game against Minnesota. The Gophers would ultimately win in their own dramatic fashion, but the Nittany Lions would also find their way to the postseason.
A year later Penn State faced a game that would define their postseason chances yet again, and yet again a penalty shot in the final moments would help define the outcome of that game.
And this time it did not find the back of the net. And Penn State may not find itself in the postseason.
In truth, with four regular season games and the Big Ten Tournament remaining, Penn State may once again find itself squeaking into the field, but those chances took a hit on a Saturday night defined by inches. Perhaps a fitting fate for a team that has seen its season defined by the little things.
The Nittany Lions are off next week before traveling to Michigan State. The Nittany Lions will then close out the regular season at home against Minnesota.