ST. PAUL- Penn State's bid for another upset came to an end Friday thanks to Wisconsin senior Michael Mersch.
Mersch (Los Angeles Kings draft pick) scored twice in the second period and Badgers goalie Joel Rumpel made 24 saves as second-seed Wisconsin defeated the sixth-seed Nittany Lions 2-1.
"We started to pick it up a little bit in the second period," University of Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. "Our goaltender did what he needed to do, and Big Mike put his big body in front of the net, do what he does well, combination of those things helped us tonight."
Wisconsin (23-10-2) will face the winner of Minnesota-Ohio State, which takes place later tonight.
A Bubble Burst, A Program Growing
Looking at both sides of the upset coin. Although Thursday afternoon's double overtime game brought the best from both teams, Penn State's biggest win came at the expense of a Michigan must-win.
Despite playing the equivalent of one and half games Thursday afternoon, Penn State (8-26-2) showed no fatigue early Friday. The Nittany Lions spent much of the first period in control much to the chagrin of Eaves.
"You see it a lot when you play - we hadn't played in a week," he said. "So they're in game mode right away. The quickness of their decisions, the ability of them to move the puck right away. We were a step behind, so that's why we looked off."
Curtis Loik got the Nittany Lions on the board early in the second period when teammate Kenny Brooks found him on a two-on-one. It took Wisconsin all of thirty-two seconds to respond, though. Jefferson Dahl hit Mersch, Wisconsin's leading goal scorer, in stride and the senior did the rest, beating Penn State goalie Matthew Skoff.
From puck drop in the second to Mersch's first celebration with the Badgers bench was 87 seconds.
"After we get scored on, we've been taught line on break for the draw and let them know we're coming for them," Mersch said. "So to get a goal on the shift after is huge. Jefferson made a good pass to me and I was able to drive the net and put it in."
Eventually the Badgers were able to get into a rhythm and momentum. Penn State took 3 penalties in the middle frame. It was the third, a bench minor for too many men, which proved to be the undoing with 10.8 seconds remaining.
Mersch, sitting in front of the crease with both his linemates, tapped home a pass past for his Big Ten-leading 22nd goal of the season.
Even more so, it was redemption for a player that entered his final postseason with one goal and three assists in 12 playoff games.
"I know that there were questions about Michael's production at playoff time. And offense is always a thing that's talked about at playoff time, whether a person is clutch or that type of thing" Eaves said. "Offense is a real fluky type of thing. It comes and goes."
Mersch's last-second goal proved to be the winner. Despite a couple chances - and several key saves by Skoff - PSU could not muster another comeback.
"It wasn't anything - I think all year, you play so much and you practice so much, it didn't really affect me that much," said Skoff, whose two games combined for 85 saves, about the experience of playing two and a half games in 24 hours. "So I think anytime I just get in the net, I need to try to focus on what I have to do at that time."
Regardless, the end is Rocky-like for the Nittany Lions. Although the team may not have won the battle, going the distance both gained our respect and PSU learned something about itself.
"Skoffer mentioned the difference between our first Big Ten game and the one that we just played. That 's a huge difference," Gadowsky said. "There's just a difference in confidence and a difference in our experience. And I feel like we're just a much, much different hockey team.
"I think if you ask any of the guys, they'll agree that they feel a lot more mature than they did at the start of the year."
PENN STATE 1- Curtis Loik (7) (Kenny Brooks, David Glen 0:55)
WISCONSIN 1- Michael Mersch (21) (Jefferson Dahl, Morgan Zulinick 1:27)
WISCONSIN 2 - Michael Mersch (22) (Mark Zengerle, Nic Kerdiles 19:49 PP)
PSU 8 - 8 - 9 -- 25
UW 11 - 13 - 10 -- 34