UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The No. 11/10 Penn State Nittany Lions erased a two-goal deficit with three unanswered goals en route to a 3-2 victory against No. 18 Minnesota including two goals in a 31 second span midway through the third period during their Big Ten Conference contest on Saturday night at Pegula Ice Arena.
The Nittany Lions improve to 20-10-4 on the year and 12-8-4-1 in conference play while Minnesota falls to 14-12-6 overall and 9-7-6-4 in Big Ten action. The Nittany Lions increased their lead over the Gophers and Ohio State to four points entering the final weekend of the regular season.
HOW IT HAPPENED
* The Gophers opened the scoring as Sammy Walker ripped in a rebound to the right of the crease after Bryce Brodzinski’s initial shot was turned aside for the 1-0 edge at 2:57 of the first period.
* Minnesota extended the lead late in the opening frame as Jackson LaCombe finished out front on a behind the net feed from Nathan Burke for the 2-0 margin at 18:45.
* Penn State cut the deficit in half midway through the second period as junior Evan Barratt (Bristol, Pa.) cleaned up a rebound after senior Liam Folkes’ (Scarborough, Ontario) initial bid was turned aside for the 2-1 score at 12:18 of the middle frame.
* The Nittany Lions wasted little time erasing the deficit completely midway through the third period using a 31-second spurt to take the 3-2 lead following goals from senior Nikita Pavlychev (Yaroslavl, Russia) and freshman Kevin Wall (Penfield, N.Y.).
* Pvalychev was the beneficiary of a beautiful cross-ice feed from freshman Tyler Gratton (Pottstown, Pa.) during a odd-man rush and the senior lifted a shot over the shoulder of Gopher net-minder Jack LaFontaine for the 2-2 tie at the nine-minute mark of the third period.
* On the ensuing shift, Pavlychev set up the heroics with a wraparound pass that Wall deposited inside the far post for the 3-2 lead just 31 ticks later.
Jones stopped 21 shots including all 10 he saw in the final period to improve his record to 18-9-3 while LaFontaine fell to 7-7-5 on the year after making 39 saves.
Opening statement: I thought that was a real, real gutsy win by the guys and I’m really happy for the seniors. They played fantastic and it was a really big win.
Q: How often do you see an emotional shift, like the 31 seconds that you guys had there in the third period?
A: I mean, you know what, it’s funny, momentum is a very real thing. I mean I think we all try to harness it but you never know how, or I don’t know how anyway, but it’s real and I think we saw it there.
Q: Did you get the chance to settle in from Pavlychev’s goal before Wall’s goal?
A: No, I didn’t, I don’t know if the guys did- well Kevin did, thank God. But I hadn’t, no. Yeah, I do think that this building, and the Roar Zone and the atmosphere in it has a lot to do with that. It seems that this crowd gets that snowball rolling pretty quickly and I really do think that’s a big part of it.
Q; Is it fitting that the two plays with Pavylchev had to do with his skating on the rush, and the improvement in that regard?
A: I never thought about it as poetically as you just did, but it is. That is quite fitting. Yeah, you know, great play by Pavlychev but you can’t overlook a really great play by [Tyler] Gratton. Boy was that nice, that was pretty. A big game by him and, and all the guys I mean it was, it was an awesome game.
Q: What does that say about [Tyler] Gratton’s maturity?
A: He did a lot. I mean I was really impressed with specifically one shift in the third where I think it could have been easy to put himself in a tough position to have a possible penalty be taken on him and he was really disciplined in making sure that that didn’t happen. That was a great play by him, as well as big penalty kills, he played really well.
Q: What do you think Kevin’s goal meant for him to have that moment?
A: You know what, he’s been playing his best hockey of late and, obviously he’s extremely talented. I think as it happens with a lot of freshmen, that have had a lot of success in a junior league, that maybe step below in terms of tempo might sometimes take some time. But, if you have a great attitude and you work hard things usually come around, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing with him. He’s always had a great attitude towards things, and it’s really nice to see his hard work paying off.
Q: What does it say about the maturity of the team to be able to come back from a two-goal deficit?
A: I think we’ve been through it maybe a few times this year so the maturity of this season learning. You know, I think it’s not just because we have seniors, I think there were some lessons that we had to go through this year. But I don’t think we’re paying for them. At the same time, I do think we’re playing pretty well and we’re still just a little bit snake bit, but, I like the fact that they kept doing what they’re doing. I don’t think we panicked and changed I think we kept doing what we wanted to do. And it’s nice to see eventually that the shots went in for it.
* Penn State secured home-ice advantage in the Big Ten Quarterfinals with tonight’s victory, securing no lower than a third-place finish, the highest finish in program history. The Nittany Lions can secure the Big Ten regular-season Championship and No. 1 overall seed next weekend with both a Minnesota and Ohio State loss or secure at least a share if either team secures four points.
* The 12 Big Ten victories and the 41 points are also new program highs.
* Penn State dominated in the shot column again with a 42-23 advantage while going 3-for-3 on the penalty kill and 0-for-1 on the power-play.
* Tonight’s attendance of 6,328 is the third largest crowd in the history of Pegula Ice Arena while the win was the 80th in the building.
* The victory for Penn State was its first this season in nine chances when trailing entering the third period.
* With one goal and one assist, Pavlychev secured his fourth multi-point game of the season and the 13th of his career.
* The Nittany Lions even the all-time series against the Gophers with the victory as the series record now stands at 15-15-1. Penn State is now 12-2-1 in the last 15 meetings and 7-0-1 in the last eight at Pegula.
* With his second period assist, junior Cole Hults (Stoughton, Wis.) tied the Penn State single-season record for points by a defenseman with 30.
* The Nittany Lions secured their fourth 20-win season in program history and the third such season for the senior class.
Penn State sits idle next weekend as the regular season comes to a close. The Big Ten Tournament begins on March 6-8 with quarterfinal action as the Nittany Lions will anxiously watch the games next weekend to see which seed they have earned and whether they’ve official clinched the No. 1 overall seed and a first-round bye. If that is the case Penn State will not play another game until it hosts a Big Ten Tournament semifinal contest on March 14.