By Andy Kuros, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - In front of a Pegula Ice Arena crowd watching its first home Big Ten Tournament game in program history, No. 4 Penn State used five different goal scorers to defeat No. 5 Minnesota, 5-3.
With the score tied up at two late in the second period, the Nittany Lions found the back of the net twice in less than a minute to break away in a game that was deadlocked up until that point.
"To me, the end of the second was the difference in the game," head coach Guy Gadowsky said. "Both teams certainly deserved to win, it was extremely close. That game could've gone either way."
Sophomore Denis Smirnov and junior Andrew Sturtz, however, made sure it was the Blue and White coming out on top. Smirnov gave Penn State a 3-2 lead with just 1:11 left in the second after scoring his 15th goal of the season. Sturtz then matched his teammate by scoring his 14th goal of the season just 54 seconds later.
"It was huge," Sturtz said when asked about the strong finish to the second frame. "We're finally starting to learn how to play with a two-goal lead. Going into that third period with a little extra cushion was good."
"Those were two great goals by Denis and Sturtzy. That was the difference," Gadowsky added. "I think the little bit of inspiration we got helped us close it out."
Despite the offensive success in the third, including a total of three goals on 12 shots, the Golden Gophers continued to hang around. With 4:27 remaining in the game and Minnesota down one and on the power play, it was the Nittany Lion penalty kill that came up big.
"I felt we killed really well," Gadowsky said. "Obviously we gave up two and you usually feel bad about that, but I thought we killed very well."
Penn State played five of the last 10 minutes down a man and did not give up the slim lead. Sturtz talked about the importance of Penn State's penalty kill and how the team's depth is a big factor in being able to stop the Minnesota man advantage.
"I thought we were good," Sturtz said. "Other guys stepped in and that's the good thing about our team, we have so much depth that guys can play on the penalty kill. That's what we've done all year."
Minnesota, who was 2-4 on the power play up to that point, couldn't get the job done when it mattered most. Alongside goaltender Peyton Jones, the Nittany Lion defense helped Penn State get the stop it needed on arguably its most important penalty kill of the season.
Freshman Evan Barrat then put the icing on the cake registering an empty net goal, his ninth of the year, with only 30 seconds left on the clock.Penn State will carry its four-game winning streak into game two of the series as they look to advance to the Big Ten semifinals. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m.