The Nittany Lions took another step towards showing the level of dominance that lead them to the top rankings tonight. They outshot Wisconsin 44-29 en route to capturing the series sweep of the Badgers with an exhilarating 5-2 win.
Denis Smirnov and Nate Sucese tallied two goals each and a handful of assists, and the well-oiled machine that is college hockey’s best offense was on full display in the Kohl Center.
The sweep gives Penn State some bragging rights in a series previously dominated by the Badgers, with the return series in University Park looming on the schedule three weeks from now.
How It Happened
Play began with both teams upping the pressure from Friday’s night’s opening period, with goaltenders Peyton Jones and Matt Jurusik making their share of saves early on. The Badgers foiled a potential goal-scoring opportunity at the midway point of the first period, following an interference penalty on Penn State’s Vince Pedrie with a Trent Frederic penalty of their own just two seconds after the ensuing faceoff.
After both teams regained full strength, star freshman Sucese pushed the Nittany Lions in front after he finished off a sweet feed from team captain David Goodwin following a quick transition with just under six and a half minutes to go. Smirnov was also credited with his first assist of the night on the goal. After a flurry of shots, Penn State was forced to kill off two penalties in a row as Blake Gober and David Thompson were whistled for interference and cross-checking, respectively. After their third penalty kill of the opening period, the Nittany Lions were caught amidst a poor line change — Matt Ustaki banged in the rebound off of Grant Besse’s shot to put the Badgers were even with just 23 seconds left in the period. The Nittany Lions held an 11-10 shot advantage, and the Badgers’ equalizer was a bit flukey.
Still, they used the momentum coming out of the break to their own advantage, as multiple shot opportunities left Peyton Jones underneath a pile of bodies covering a puck often for the first few minutes of the second period. A Smirnov pass found its way in front of Sucese who again buried a goal to take the lead for Guy Gadowsky’s squad. A hooking call against the Badgers’ Cameron Hughes immediately put Wisconsin a man down, but it managed to kill off the Penn State penalty.
Smirnov found himself with the puck in the slot near the blue line, and decided to fire off a rocket that miraculously found its way under Jurusik’s glove to give the Nittany Lions a 3-1 lead just over the halfway point of the game. Wisconsin, suddenly coming unraveled much like Friday night’s 6-3 Nittany Lion victory, was forced to kill another penalty following Peter Tischke’s cross-check with less than nine minutes left in the second period. Saar was whistled for high-sticking and it gave the Badgers a lifeline they desperately needed. The highly-ranked Wisconsin power-play unit capitalized, working the puck around the point before Luke Kunin finshed off a pass from Hughes. The remaining two and a half minutes saw a rejuvenated Wisconsin bunch get into some nearly-escalating shoving matches with the Nittany Lions, while also managing to rip off three shots in forty-five seconds on Jones. A late chance from Goodwin failed to come to fruition, and the Nittany Lions took a 3-2 lead into the final stanza.
Physical, back-and-forth play resumed in the final period, with a high forecheck from Wisconsin keeping the puck right on Jones’ doorstep early on. Out of nowhere, Smirnov intercepted the puck behind his own blue line and took it coast-to-coast, sneaking the puck in between the shin pads of Jurusik to extend the Penn State lead to 4-2 following the breakaway. The play got even chippier, and a poor turnover in their own zone saw the Badgers’ deficit increase to three with just over five minutes remaining, as Trevor Hamilton found a loose puck off of the rebound of his own shot and hammered it home following Jurusik’s initial save. Jurusik made an acrobatic save on a Brandon Biro shot with under a minute to go to keep the margin respectable, and the Nittany Lions took home the series sweep with a dominating 5-2 victory.
Player(s) Of The Game
Two goals and two assists would typically warrant a night like Denis Smirnov’s its own level of recognition. However, fellow freshman Nate Sucese put in two goals and an assist of his own to tally three points for the Nittany Lions. Co-players of the game seems like a fitting ending for the front line pair.
Number 25 is definitely back on his grind. Smirnov’s four-point night gives him 34 on the season, the most of any freshman in the country and sixteenth overall.
Penn State returns to Pegula for a shot at redemption against the same Minnesota squad that swept them a week ago in Minneapolis. The puck will drop at 6:30 p.m. on Friday night, and at 8 p.m. the following night.