The Nittany Lions head into their final stretch of conference play after blowing past No. 14 Vermont in another comeback win Saturday, scoring four straight goals to beat the Catamounts 4-2 at the third annual College Hockey Faceoff in Philadelphia.
With the win, Penn State (13-7-4, 5-2-1 B1G) now holds a 2-1-0 record against Vermont (15-9-2, 7-6-1 HEA) in the event and the victory is their second versus a ranked team this year.
Saturday: 4-2 win vs. Vermont
Philadelphia local David Thompson scored his first collegiate goal at an appropriate time, breaking a late 2-2 tie and giving Penn State their second comeback win in as many weeks.
With just over three minutes to play in the game, Thompson notched the Nittany Lion's third goal by a defenseman this season with a rocket from the point. Forward Ricky DeRosa shuffled a pass from the nearside boards up to Thompson at the right point and the sophomore's one-timer met no resistance from Vermont netminder Mike Santaguida to break the deadlock and give Penn State the lead 3-2.
An easy empty net tally from David Goodwin finished off the comeback with 1:08 left to play to seal the Nittany Lion's fourth win in six games.
The game started with both sides getting their chances through the first 20 minutes, but were held scoreless on 12 shots apiece. In the second, Vermont broke out for two scores in under two minutes just past the halfway point of the frame to put the Nittany Lions in a quick 2-0 deficit.
Brady Shaw tallied the opening strike off a defensive lapse by the Nittany Lions at 12:57 of the second and beat Penn State's starting netminder PJ Musico for the 1-0 score.
A half a minute later, Penn State's captain Patrick Koudys was sent to the box for two minutes on a boarding call and Vermont increased their lead on the ensuing power play. Mario Puskarich netted the special teams tally for the Catamounts to double their lead to 2-0.
Penn State responded to Vermont's two quick strikes with one of their own as 14 seconds later, the Nittany Lion's leading points scorer Casey Bailey pocketed his 18th tally of the year with 4:56 to play in the middle frame. A cross-ice feed from defenseman Luke Juha hit Bailey right on his tape, and the forward sent a low shot from the right circle that Santaguida could not stop for the 2-1 strike, giving Penn State the momentum heading into the third period.
It almost came undone for the Nittany Lions in the first few minutes of the third, as Penn State had to kill off 1:17 of a 5-on-3 Catamount advantage. However, goaltender Musico and the Penn State penalty kill stopped Vermont and the Nittany Lions cashed in on a power play of their own off Scott Conway's sixth goal of the year four minutes into the frame. The freshman's shot from the bottom of the left post was stopped by Santaguida stick side, but Conway collected his own rebound and pocketed the goal to extend his point streak to three games and tie the match at 2-2.
Each team had one goal on the power play, with Penn State netting one of their three and holding Vermont to one of six.
The Nittany Lion's starting netminder Musico made 33 saves in net for Penn State in his first official start of the year, raising his record to 2-1-1 on the season with the victory between the pipes.
Penn State again outshot their opponent, holding a 39-35 advantage over the Catamounts.
Penn State is currently on a six game tear, going 4-0-2 through their last handful of games, with their last loss the 5-4 overtime defeat against Ohio State on Jan. 9. The Nittany Lions will now play their last 12 games in conference, holding second place in the Big Ten with 16 points with a 5-2-1 conference record.
It's certainly not going to be easy, but coming out of January with only one loss was Penn State's best case scenario heading into the second half of their season. The Nittany Lions certainly have the momentum, and they play two-win Wisconsin this upcoming weekend to kick off their final batch of games. A sweep of the Badgers at home to start the month of February would be huge heading into the last two months of the season.
Once again, Penn State had to dig themselves out of a hole to win a game. It's been a trend of theirs in the 2015 half of the season, and something they have to break if they want to have success in what will arguably be their hardest part of the year.
"I thought we struggled a little bit early on," head coach Guy Gadowsky said. "I think you've got to give Vermont a lot of credit. I thought Vermont actually did what they wanted to do, and they seemed to just play their game better than we were playing our game."
Penn State will need to find their game faster and play a full game of hockey for their team to continue their streak into the second month of the year.