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Penn State Hockey’s Postseason Outlook

No. 9 Penn State hockey wrapped up its regular season by claiming five out of a possible six points from No. 18 Minnesota last weekend.

The Nittany Lions tied the first game of the series 3-3, but Alex Limoges’ game-winning goal with 23 seconds left in 3-on-3 overtime gave the team a crucial second point in the Big Ten standings. Guy Gadowsky’s side followed that up with a come-from-behind 3-2 victory on senior night to finish the regular season with a 20-10-4 record.

As things stand right now, Penn State is on top of the Big Ten’s standings with a four-point cushion ahead of Ohio State and Minnesota, which are tied with 37 points. Normally, it’d be time for the Nittany Lions to start celebrating, but a quirk in their schedule means they’ll have to wait before planning any Big Ten title celebrations.

Penn State will actually be idle for the final weekend of college hockey’s regular season while all six of its Big Ten counterparts play. It’s a strange quirk for sure, but all the Nittany Lions can do is scoreboard-watch.

With that in mind, here’s a look at the team’s possible postseason fate entering the final week of college hockey’s regular season.

Conference Equation

Penn State’s five-point weekend against the Golden Gophers assured that the team will host at least one round of postseason hockey at Pegula Ice Arena for the third consecutive season. The Nittany Lions are guaranteed to finish no lower than third place in the conference when all is said and done, and the team has a very realistic shot at winning the Big Ten’s regular-season title for the first time ever.

This weekend, fans of Guy Gadowsky’s program will probably want to keep a close eye on Ohio State’s and Minnesota’s series against Wisconsin and Michigan, respectively. If each team loses one game in its respective series, Penn State will finish as the Big Ten’s No. 1 seed.

Ohio State or Minnesota needs, at the very least, one regulation/5-on-5 overtime victory and one tie/3-on-3 overtime victory (read: five points in the conference standings) in order to leap-frog the Nittany Lions for the conference title.

If Penn State finishes level on 41 points with either team, the Nittany Lions would win the conference by virtue of their head-to-head record against both teams. Penn State went 2-1-1 against Ohio State and 3-0-1 against Minnesota in the 2019-20 season.

The Golden Gophers and Buckeyes’ opposition this weekend are both in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings — Michigan is fifth and Wisconsin is last — but anybody can truly beat anybody else in the conference. Regardless, Penn State hockey fans will probably want to break out their Badger red and the famous gold maize and blue this weekend.

Winning the Big Ten’s regular-season title would bring plenty of perks to Hockey Valley. First of all, the road to a conference title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament would run through Pegula Ice Arena. But perhaps more importantly, Penn State would automatically secure a spot in the semifinal round with a first-round bye.

The first round of the Big Ten tournament is slated for the weekend of March 6-8. If Penn State wins the conference’s regular-season title, its first postseason game would be played on March 15.

National Equation

Right now, Penn State sits at No. 7 in college hockey’s PairWise rankings — an objective, computer-generated system that ranks teams based on a series of comparisons to one another. The PairWise’s probability matrix gives the Nittany Lions a 100% chance of qualifying for the NCAA tournament.

The PairWise itself isn’t the end-all, be-all of deciding who makes it into the big dance. It instead serves as an accurate predictor of which 16 teams will play for the national championship after college hockey’s various conference tournaments come to a close.

The 100% chance of qualifying given to Penn State by the probability matrix doesn’t definitively mean that the team has clinched a spot in the tournament. That’ll only be the case when the team’s name is called on Selection Sunday, so any reports saying the team has officially clinched aren’t true yet.

With that in mind, Penn State will play in its third NCAA tournament in the last four years barring a collapse of epic proportions. A scenario in which the Nittany Lions don’t qualify for the big dance would be on par with the 2010 Boston Bruins and 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs as far as hockey collapses are concerned — but it won’t happen…probably.

Penn State is set to serve as host of the NCAA’s Midwest Regional in Allentown this season. If (when) they qualify for the big dance, the Nittany Lions will automatically slot into the Midwest and play their tournament contests at the PPL Center.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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