STATE COLLEGE, PA. – Nikita Pavlychev and Kevin Wall scored goals 31 seconds apart in the middle of the third period to lead Penn State to a 3-2 victory over the Gophers on Saturday in Big Ten men's hockey at the Pegula Ice Arena.
The result left the first place Nittany Lions four points ahead of Minnesota in the conference standings. But that's a precarious lead because this was final conference game for Penn State (20-10-4, 12-8-3-1). The Gophers play Michigan at home next weekend with six points at stake.
Complicating matters for Minnesota, though, is that their one-point weekend in Happy Valley dropped them into a tie for second in the Big Ten with Ohio State, which swept Michigan State. The Buckeyes host Wisconsin next weekend.
Gophers junior goalie Jack LaFontaine, who had a season-high 54 saves in a 3-3 tie Friday with Penn State, made 39 saves in the rematch. Penn State goalie Peyton Jones stopped 21 shots.
The Gophers (14-12-6, 9-7-6-4 Big Ten) came out with considerably more hop in the rematch — they were outshot 21-5 in the opening period the night before — and scored early. Sammy Walker got his 11th goal of the season at 2:57. Bryce Brodzinski and Blake McLaughlin had the assists.
Brodzinski's shot from the left circle was stopped by one of Jones' leg pads, but the rebound squirted out to the other side. And Walker had an open side to aim at for an easy rebound goal.
Freshman defenseman Jackson LaCombe made it 2-0 Gophers with 1:15 left in the first. Nathan Burke, handling the puck near the endboards, set LaCombe up with a blind, backward pass in front while looking the other way. With Jones covering the near side, LaCombe deflected Burke's pass just inside the left post for his second goal of the season.
Penn State cut the Gophers' lead in half when Evan Barratt scored at 12:18 of the second. LaFontaine stopped the initial shot by Liam Folkes but, with the puck lying just in front of the netminder, Barratt quickly got his stick on it for a tap-in.
This loss dropped the Gophers record to 0-7-1 in their past eight games at Pegula Ice Arena.
The Gophers can clinch the title by sweeping Michigan next week as long as Ohio State doesn't sweep Wisconsin. The first tiebreaker is conference wins, and the Buckeyes have 11 to the Gophers' nine.