No. 15 Penn State hockey knocked off Michigan 4-1 last night to advance to the Big Ten Semifinals for the third time in four years. It was a textbook “must-win” — it’s now more likely than not that Penn State gets an at-large NCAA Tournament berth. The Nittany Lions face off against their Achilles’ heel No. 5 Minnesota in the semifinals tonight at 8 p.m. Here’s everything you need to know:
Recapping The Season
Minnesota was the only Big Ten team Penn State just couldn’t figure out this season. The Gophers swept the Nittany Lions through four meetings, featuring one of the best hockey games I’ve ever witnessed. While Minnesota was the better team in its first three meetings with Penn State (5-1, 5-2, and 6-3 decisions), the last meeting (a 4-3 overtime Minnesota victory) proved Penn State can hang with the Gophers if it’s playing its best hockey.
Coach Guy Gadowsky said the team’s mentality is opportunistic headed into the semifinals. “I can tell you personally, we learned something from that [showing against Minnesota this season]— specifically the last game. We played a great game and ended up losing,” he said after Penn State’s quarterfinal win. “To be honest with you, it was my fault. It wasn’t the players or anything they did. We lost a face-off with seven seconds to go and they tied it up and then we lost in overtime — I can tell you personally we learned a lot from it.”
Where We’re At
Both Penn State and Minnesota cooled off a bit at the end of the regular season. The Nittany Lions ended it with two losses to Michigan, but proved they can win when it matters with a 4-1 victory over the Wolverines last night. Minnesota ended the season with a tie against Michigan State, who Penn State swept on the season. It also lost to Michigan in its second-to-last regular season series.
I think the one and done nature of the Big Ten Tournament changes the dynamic. This will be a close game if Penn State comes out like it did last night (3-0 lead after the first) — but if the Nittany Lions don’t get on the board first, I don’t see them winning. Peyton Jones also needs to have a performance in net on par with last night’s. Penn State’s mentality will be a huge factor considering it’s facing a team it went winless against through the season, and I like the positive outlook Gadowsky seems to have going into tonight.
“I think at this time in the locker room, ‘boy, I’d like to try this [facing Minnesota]again’ — that’s really the mentality,” he said.
I have a feeling this game will end in a 4-3 decision with whoever scores first advancing to the championship game.