DETROIT – Twenty-seven days removed from a last-second goal and ensuing overtime road victory against Penn State, the Gophers men’s hockey team was unable to repeat the feat Friday night at Joe Louis Arena.
Despite a career-high 59 saves by Eric Schierhorn, Penn State defeated the Gophers for the first time in five meetings this season.
Nittany Lions defenseman Erik Autio pinched and put a Denis Smirnov pass into the back of the net to take home the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament berth and hand the Gophers a 4-3 double-overtime loss in a Big Ten tournament semifinal. At a total of 93 minutes, 33 seconds, it was the longest game in Big Ten history, and it was an emotional one for the Gophers.
“We played hard and we blocked a lot of shots toward the end,” said Schierhorn, who for the third consecutive game against Penn State set a career high in saves. “We battled. We did. You can’t say we didn’t try and play our hearts out.”
Playing before a crowd announced at 2,791, the Gophers (23-11-3) were able to tie Penn State 3:42 into the third period on defenseman Jack Sadek’s third goal in three games. Like Minnesota’s tying goal in late February, this one came directly off of a faceoff.
The Big Ten regular- season champions had chances late in the game and during overtime. Michigan native Mike Szmatula came closest in the first overtime period. However, it took Penn State (23-11-2) getting the first power play in over two periods on a Leon Bristedt holding call to score the winner.
“The big thing we kept trying to harp on our guys was to manage the puck. Both goalies made some really good saves,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “Sometimes when it goes deeper into overtime you can get a little more cautious.”
Minnesota gave up six power-play chances, stopping the first four before Dylan Richard and Autio made the Gophers pay.
“We have to stay out of the box more. It’s a tough call in overtime, but it is what it is so we’re just going to have to focus on next weekend,” Schierhorn said.
Schierhorn settled down after giving up a goal to Nikita Pavlychev on the game’s opening shot. The Gophers responded from giving up an early deficit with goals by Rem Pitlick and Justin Kloos. Kloos, the senior captain, got his 150th career point in a Gophers sweater on his 18th goal of the season.
Alec Marsh tied the game at 2-2 in the second period during a stretch where the Gophers were held without a shot for 17 minutes.
Penn State goaltender Peyton Jones matched Schierhorn, finishing with 37 saves. Both goalies were focused and dialed in, with Schierhorn saying it was easier as the game went on to do so.
“The goalies played good. I was very happy the way Eric played. He’s played well the second half of the season,” Lucia said. “Now for us, it’s just go home tomorrow and rest up and get ready for next week.”
The Nittany Lions will play Wisconsin on Saturday for the Big Ten championship with the winner getting the conference’s automatic bid. Penn State will get into the NCAA tournament win or lose, but the Badgers need to win to get a postseason berth.
The Gophers, meanwhile, will wait until Sunday to find out where they will play in the NCAA tournament next weekend as an at-large bid. Unfortunately for Schierhorn, setting a career high is not something he will celebrate. On top of the loss, Minnesota finished fifth in the PairWise, one spot behind Western Michigan for the fourth and final No. 1 seed.
“We don’t know how things are going to shape up, but we’re going to assume we’re not going to get [one of] the No. 1 seeds,” he said.