One down, more to go.
With the help of two-goal outings by Brandon Biro and Denis Smirnov, Penn State hockey picked up a crucial 8-2 victory over Wisconsin on Friday night, a small step closer to a third-straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
For the Nittany Lions it was two posts in the opening two minutes before Brandon Biro finally found the back of the net 10:20 into the evening. Penn State out shot Wisconsin 16-9 in a fast and free-flowing opening period and Smirnov picked up his first of the night and sixth on the year just 2:53 following Biro's tally to push the Nittany Lions ahead 2-0.
Wisconsin didn't go without a fight and managed to beat Peyton Jones through traffic to tie the game with just over seven minutes to go in the frame. Jones finished the night with 29 saves while Penn State ripped 56 shots on Wisconsin netminders.
It was a short-lived moment of tension, Cole Hults answering a minute later to put Penn State ahead 3-2 en route to outshooting the Badgers 25-10 in the middle frame.
And the floodgates opened.
Penn State would score again in the final seconds of the period as Sam Sternschein ripped a puck over Daniel Lebedeff. A once 2-2 tie suddenly a 4-2 Nittany Lions' lead.
Sucese added to the total just 3:25 into the final period to blow the game open and Chase Berger added one of his own a minute later to all but end it. Biro's second with nine minutes to go only added insult to injury and the 8-2 final.
“It was definitely a good feeling,” Smirnov said of his four-point night. “You always have ups and downs. You always hit posts. Goalies make amazing saves or something like that. You’ve just got to stay in the game and keep positive all the time.”
For Penn State, Smirnov's emergence could be exactly what the Nittany Lions need without the services of forward Evan Barratt who missed his second-straight game with injury on Friday. The skilled Russian skater holds the program record with 47 points in a single season, but has been snakebitten nearly the entire year, largely a non-factor in terms of offensive zone zone production.
The Nittany Lions seemingly didn't lose a step Friday despite the absence, not entirely a surprise given the team's propensity for scoring across all four lines. Nevertheless, there are only so many injuries a team can overcome, forward Aarne Talvitie already out for the remainder of the year.
“I think we’re pretty deep,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. “Obviously Evan Barratt has had a great year, and so has his line. I also think that when we’re successful we get a lot of scoring from everywhere, and I think that’s what’s happening.”
Penn State will enjoy the victory, the team's 18th on the year, and ninth when scoring six or more goals, but will head back to the ice Saturday night for a 7:00 p.m puck drop.
A win, and the Nittany Lions might find themselves a few more positive results away from the postseason yet again, a loss and the road will be tougher, especially with a regular-season ending trip to South Bend on the horizon.