Penn State jumped back into the USCHO rankings at No. 19 after completing their season sweep of Wisconsin this weekend. The Nittany Lions (15-7-4, 7-2-1-0 B1G) thwarted the Badgers (2-18-4, 0-8-2-2 B1G) twice to keep them winless in the Big Ten, scoring four straight Friday night for a 5-2 victory then allowing only one goal Saturday in their 4-1 win.
Nine different Nittany Lions scored en route to keep the team's eight game unbeaten streak alive and help gain their first USCHO ranking since they nabbed the 20th spot back in December.
Friday: 5-2 win vs. Wisconsin
In front of the team's second annual White Out game, Penn State held the Badgers to two early goals and Hobey Baker Award nominee Casey Bailey tacked on three points to lead the team to a 5-2 victory Friday night.
The Nittany Lions took six minutes to get on the board to start the game off former captain Tommy Olczyk's sixth tally of the season. A large rebound from Badger netminder Joel Rumpel off the stick of defenseman Connor Varley from the right circle came right to Olczyk in the slot. The senior then deposited the easy marker stick side on Rumpel to give Penn State the early 1-0 lead.
Badger Cameron Hughes had another plan for the Nittany Lions, as the forward struck twice in six and a half minutes to put Wisconsin up 2-1 after the first 20 minutes of play. At 10:19 of the opening period, Hughes' left circle wrist shot got Nittany Lion netminder PJ Musico five-hole before the senior could close the pads to tie the game 1-1.
Wisconsin stole the lead with 3:01 left to play in the first after Penn State could not convert in the offensive zone and the Badgers took the rush the other way. A pileup formed in front of the Nittany Lion net and Hughes emerged to put the puck in on an empty net with Musico unable to get across in time for the 2-1 score.
Penn State came out firing in the second and were rewarded with the tying tally 1:26 into the middle frame. With pressure on Rumpel from a Nittany Lion rush, Eric Scheid benefited from a Scott Conway pass below the red line and deposited the puck five-hole from the doorstep to even the match 2-2.
With 5:01 to play in the second, David Goodwin gave Penn State the game winning strike on his 12th of the season. Bailey's shot from the nearside boards hit off of bodies in front and the slow roller was swiped in from the stick of Goodwin on a diving play at the left post with Rumpel unable to untangle himself in the crease to put Penn State up 3-2.
Bailey's second point of the night came on a rocket of a slap shot to double the Nittany Lion lead at 10:47 of the third period. Dylan Richard passed the puck from the farside boards to Bailey all alone in the high slot and the forward buried the puck top shelf on Rumpel before a defender could get near the junior.
To finish the game off, Taylor Holstrom put the game away with an empty netter with 10 seconds left in the game for the 5-2 Penn State win.
Musico finished the game with 35 saves in net for the Nittany Lions in his third official start in Pegula in his career and his third win of the season. Both teams had 37 shots on net and neither could net a power play chance, with Penn State going 0-for-1 and Wisconsin 0-for-2.
Saturday: 4-1 win vs. Wisconsin
A pair of goals from defensemen lifted Penn State over Wisconsin 4-1 Saturday, helping the Nittany Lions complete the season sweep of the Badgers for their first season conference sweep in their Division I history. Penn State went 0-5 against the Badgers last season, losing out to Wisconsin in the Big Ten conference semi-finals last season.
Leading 2-1 heading into the final period, Penn State withstood what looked to be a tying Badger goal late in the game that was eventually waved off for a high stick and pumped in two final goals in the third to finish the weekend off with a 4-1 victory.
A minute and a half after the no-goal call, freshman James Robinson extended Penn State's lead to 3-1 with a great individual effort from the first year. Robinson found a path of free ice on the doorstep of Rumpel and the freshman's soft shot bleed through the netminder five-hole for the two-goal Penn State lead.
The Nittany Lions secured the 1-0 lead early in the game, on a power play goal from defenseman Luke Juha 13:12 into the opening frame. Off Bailey's cross ice pass to the defenseman at the right point, Juha one-timed the puck through traffic to open the scoring for his first goal of the season.
Penn State doubled up on Wisconsin 3:03 into the second period after a turnover was forced by Eric Scheid as the Badgers were attempting to exit their own zone. Scheid avoided the Wisconsin back check and made a pass through the slot to Dylan Richard gliding down the center of the ice and the forward tapped in the easy glove side tally into an open net for the 2-0 score.
Adam Rockwood broke starting netminder PJ Musico's shutout at 10:32 of the second with both teams skating 4-on-4 after coincidental minors to Penn State's Ricky DeRosa and Wisconsin's Morgan Zulinick. Rockwood's shot from the top of the slot went top shelf on Musico for the 2-1 tally and their only strike of the game.
After the no-goal call and Robinson's tally, Erik Autio put the game out of reach for Wisconsin with his first career collegiate goal with 1:14 to play in the game. On the power play, the freshman's quick snipe from the top of the left circle beat Rumpel high for Penn State's final score of the afternoon to seal the victory 4-1.
Musico had another solid night in net for the Nittany Lions allowing one goal on 28 Wisconsin shots for his fourth win of the season. Penn State had 43 shots on net in Saturday afternoon's match.
Only Penn State was able to take advantage of their power play opportunities -- with each team getting five with a grand total of 28 penalty minutes between the two teams -- and netting two of their five.
Penn State didn't falter to a less-than-stellar Wisconsin Badgers team in what could have been considered a trap series for the streaking Nittany Lions. Now ranked 19th in the nation after their two win weekend, Penn State has 10 games left in their regular season to either climb or fall through the standings. The Nittany Lions are ranked 20th in the Pairwise Rankings, just on the outside of the top 16 teams that approximate which teams will make the NCAA tournament, and will most likely have to win the Big Ten tournament in order to make the cut, but their unbeaten streak since Jan. 10 is no fluke for a reason.
Also of note is Penn State's leading scorer Casey Bailey, who has 33 points 26 games played. The junior is tied for fourth in the league with 19 goals and is the team's legitimate contender for the Hobey Baker Award. A lot is going right for Penn State right now, and a good portion of it is coming from the play of Bailey.
Penn State wasn't exactly consistent over the weekend, falling behind early to Wisconsin in Friday's game and sitting back too much in Saturday's that it nearly cost them the game.
Now, there are no more "easy wins" for the NIttany Lions in their last stretch of the season and they can't afford to play less than a 60 minute game. They play Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, and then Minnesota for two series in the last 10 games to finish out the year. Though it's not insurmountable, Penn State will have to play their best five weeks of the year and hope they have a month and a half left in them to finish the job.
Penn State heads to Michigan State (10-11-2, 4-3-2 Big Ten) this Friday and Saturday to finish their regular season against the Spartans. Last series, Penn State tied and lost to visiting Michigan State in January and will look to come out on top in another conference series this season.
The Penn State women's team (15-11-4, 9-5-2 CHA) split their weekend series at Lindenwood, winning Friday's match 3-2 but falling in the series closer 4-2 to the Lions. The Nittany Lions will head to Mercyhurst (20-7-3, 11-4-1 CHA) next weekend in their penultimate series of the regular season.