Series Grades: Minnesota
The No. 18 Penn State played their most complete series this season this weekend and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Nittany Lions defeated No. 8 Minnesota 5-1 on Friday and 5-2 on Saturday.
The series sweep over the Golden Gophers plus Ohio State sweeping Wisconsin in convincing fashion allowed Penn State to clinch home ice along with the fourth seed for the Big Ten Conference Tournament Quarterfinals.
It’s extremely rare for a team to pepper a goalie with 101 shots in two games but the Nittany Lions were able to make life a living nightmare for Golden Gophers’ goalie Mat Robson. Penn State had shot totals of 61 and 40 respectively on Friday and Saturday. Alex Limoges had himself a fantastic series tallying three goals and one assist. Senior captain James Robinson also scored two goals with one of them being an empty-netter in his final regular-season game at Pegula Ice Arena. The offense came out firing and shared the wealth as a number of Nittany Lions lit the lamp. Denis Smirnov also scored his team-high 14th goal of the season off of a rebound in front of the net in the first period of game two. The Colorado Avalanche prospect now has over 70 points in just two seasons while wearing the Blue and White. Freshman Chicago Blackhawks draft pick Evan Barratt also sent Pegula into a frenzy with his top-shelf wrist shot goal during Friday night’s three-goal third period.
The defensive front was absolutely smothering. They clamped down on the Minnesota attack and didn’t take the foot off of the gas pedal until the 120 minutes of play concluded. The Nittany Lions allowed only 15 shots in game one but surrendered 41 in game two. The spirited and scrappy defensive effort then gave the Penn State offense plenty of opportunities to operate at a high level. The lone defensive lapse came in the last five minutes of the third period in game two when Denis Smirnov missed an assignment that allowed Brent Gates Jr. to snipe the puck past Peyton Jones. Finnish sensation, assistant captain and fan favorite Erik Autio played extremely well in both games. It was evident that he wanted to make his last two regular-season games at Pegula ones to remember.
Peyton Jones saved 53 of the 56 shots thrown his way over the two-game stretch and some of the saves were made when Golden Gophers were crashing the net with great vengeance. The three goals that Jones gave up were in extremely tough situations where Minnesota’s offense was in the right place at the right time and simply beat Jones. These two performances were extremely similar to the end of the regular season and Big Ten Tournament last season. Jones simply rises to another level once the end of the season approaches and if he can sustain the same level of intensity, he can make a serious case for being one the of the nation’s best netminders during crunch time. Senior walk-on Matt Erlichman also registered a save in his second appearance this season in the last few minutes to close out his regular season career at Pegula Ice Arena.
Coach Guy Gadowsky had his troops well prepared for this series and it was evident from the first puck drop on Friday night. The offense made life miserable for the Golden Gopher defense and the defense wreaked havoc on Minnesota’s offense without any mercy. The line changes were executed with clean and crisp precision and Gadowsky’s team played inspired smash-mouth hockey for 120 minutes. Big hits were made, goals were scored, and the intensity picked up from Friday to Saturday. Coach Gadowsky has gotten his team extremely motivated at the right time and it will be interesting to see if this play will continue next weekend when the Golden Gophers come back to Pegula for the Big Ten Tournament.
The first game against Minnesota is scheduled for Friday night at 7 p.m. and Saturday’s contest will also begin at 7 p.m.
Christopher Hess is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism and minoring in history. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.