STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - The Gophers men’s hockey team vowed this series would be different than the ugly sweep they suffered last weekend against Penn State in the same arena.
But Friday night was more of the same as the Nittany Lions defeated the Gophers 5-3 to take the first game in the best-of-three Big Ten quarterfinal series.
As expected, it was a heated, chippy contest that included two five-minute major penalties, one from each team, and 12 penalties overall.
Discipline, or lack thereof, played the biggest role in the Gophers’ third consecutive loss to the Nittany Lions.
“We have to be more disciplined tomorrow night,” coach Don Lucia said. “I think 10-12 minutes of the first 30 minutes of the game we played shorthanded.
“That has an effect on your ability to score. That has an effect on guys playing more minutes.”
Both teams scored two power-play goals, though the difference came from the two the Nittany Lions scored at even strength late in the second period.
Denis Smirnov snuck a short-side goal past Mat Robson to give the Nittany Lions a 3-2 lead with 1:11 left in the second period. Andrew Sturtz then made it 4-2 with 5.5 seconds to play in the frame.
“We’re finally starting to learn how to play with two-goal leads and not blow it in the end,” Sturtz said. “To have the two-goal lead going into the third period, we knew we could keep pressing for another one.”
That two-goal lead was crucial when the Gophers pulled within one 15 minutes into the third frame when Casey Mittelstadt scored his second power-play goal of the game. The Nittany Lions nearly killed the five-minute major penalty charged to James Robinson before Mittelstadt found the net with 17 seconds left on the man advantage.
For two of the five minutes Robinson was in the box, though, the teams were playing 4-on-4 as Tyler Sheehy was called for embellishment at the same time Robinson was called for making contact with Sheehy’s head.
Naturally, Lucia was not happy with the embellishment call.
“It’s the first time in the history of college hockey that someone gets called for embellishment on a five-minute major and we lost two of the minutes there,” Lucia said.
“We did score the one, and we had another chance at the end, but we couldn’t get anything going.”
Penn State freshman Evan Barratt sealed the win with an empty-net score with 30 seconds left.
Some of the bad blood between the two teams carried over from last weekend can be attributed to Barratt, who faked crying to mock Ryan Lindgren from adjacent penalty boxes in the previous series before laying a huge hit on the Gophers defenseman on the ensuing shift.
That same physicality from a week ago returned early on Friday night, and in a 1-1 game with 18:25 erased in the first period, Darian Romanko was called for checking from behind, a five-minute major, and was ejected.
Penn State was still on the five-minute power-play from the Romanko penalty when Nate Sucese gave his team its first lead less than three minutes into the second period. Sucese received a pretty cross from Kris Myllari and sent it past Robson to make it a 2-1 game