The Nittany Lions suffered a setback over the weekend in a pair of two-goal losses to Ohio State, slipping them down to fourth place in the Big Ten conference as the team lost their fifth game in six matches.
Penn State (16-12-4, 8-7-1-0 Big Ten) allowed five third period goals over the weekend to the Buckeyes (11-17-2, 6-10-0-0 Big Ten) as the Nittany Lions were unable to control Ohio State in the final frame of the series and fell in both games to their conference rival 5-3 in their final meetings of the regular season.
Friday: 5-3 loss vs. Ohio State
Quick scoring by Ohio State in the middle stages of the third period gave the Buckeyes the edge over Penn State in the team's first 5-3 loss of the weekend.
Goals by Josh Healey and Luke Stork 57 seconds apart in the final frame of the evening widened the gap to 5-2 and dashed any hopes of the Nittany Lions pulling out a victory. Healey's tally came at 8:02 of the third period on a wrister from the top of the slot that would be the eventual game winner and Stork effectively put the game out of reach off a Nittany Lion turnover at 8:59 of the frame.
However, the game started out on a first minute strike from former captain Tommy Olczyk that put Penn State up 1-0 to quiet the Columbus crowd 31 seconds into the contest. Olczyk took a backhand David Glen pass through the crease and the forward punched in the offering for the fastest Nittany Lion tally this season and their only lead of the game.
Ohio State countered with 5:34 to go in the period on a 4-on-4 chance as Matthew Weis went five-hole from the slot on Penn State senior goaltender PJ Musico to knot the game 1-1 heading into the first intermission.
The Buckeyes turned the tide 79 seconds into the second on a power play goal with Casey Bailey off for the Nittany Lions. Tanner Fritz's ninth goal of the year was a shot from the slot to give Ohio State the 2-1 lead, one they wouldn't relinquish to Penn State.
Weis' second capped off the third straight Ohio State goal to double the home team's lead to 3-1 at 12:13 of the middle frame.
Penn State closed the gap with their first goal since the first minute of the first. Scott Conway caused a turnover at the Buckeye blue line and Dylan Richard cashed in on the freshman's rebound, putting the second Nittany Lion goal past Buckeye netminder Christian Frey 58 seconds after Weis' second tally.
After the two-goal explosion from Ohio State in the middle of the third, Penn State captain Patrick Koudys attempted to start the comeback with the defenseman's first goal of the season with 5:15 to play in the game with an empty net, but the Nittany Lions could not muster a comeback in the 5-3 loss.
In net, senior Musico had 30 saves as Penn State outshot Ohio State in every period for a final tally of 49-35. On the power play, the Buckeyes went 1-for-3 while managing to hold off Penn State on their two chances in the game.
A Taylor Holstrom injury and three goals in four minutes late in the third finished off what was a much stronger game for Penn State, though the Nittany Lions still took a 5-3 loss.
Once again, Penn State started the game strong with a 1-0 lead in the first, this time on a Casey Bailey shot from Holstrom at the right post that Frey had no chance to snag to open the scoring at 11:45.
The Nittany Lions took a 2-0 lead on Holstrom's seventh of the season, again benefiting from linemates Bailey and David Goodwin to finish off some good passing behind the net with 3:28 to play in the first.
Forty-three seconds later, however, Ohio State turned their ship around as Justin DaSilva netted his first of the year on a top of the slot one-timer to halve the Penn State lead to 2-1 after one period of play.
On the power play, Sam Jardine evened the score at 2-2 for Ohio State on a shot from the slot through traffic with 4:23 gone in the middle frame to put the Nittany Lions back at square one.
Penn State thought they had the go-ahead goal from Eric Scheid but the call was waved off by the officials for a kicking motion two minutes after Jardine's tally. However, on the next shift, Mike Williamson blasted in his first of the year on a right point shot that beat Frey for the 3-2 Penn State lead.
As Holstrom looked to go down with a right knee injury in the mid-third period, the game turned on the unfortunate luck for the Nittany Lions in favor of the Buckeyes, as Ohio State struck for three quick tallies to put the game out of reach for Penn State. Nick Schilkey tied the game at 3-3 with 10:42 to go in the game, then Fritz finished a rebound that caromed off the boards behind Nittany Lion netminder Matt Skoff with a strange bounce, and Nicholas Jones completed the trifecta of goals to make it 5-3 at 13:35 of the final frame.
This time, the Buckeyes outshot the Nittany Lions 44-27 while Skoff put up 39 saves in his sixth loss of the season. Ohio State netted one of their two power play chances in the game while committing no penalties to keep the Nittany Lions off the man advantage.
Penn State hasn't played too well on the road this season, going 4-7-0 outside of Pegula while holding a 11-2-3 record in Hockey Valley. Thankfully, the Nittany Lions are headed back to State College next weekend to host Michigan in a series they so desperately need to win to gain ground in the Big Ten standings.
Of course it's not going to be easy, especially with Minnesota waiting in the wings to finish out the season. However, Penn State has a habit of succeeding in high pressure situations and with two weeks left in the regular season, it's make or break time for the Nittany Lions as they try to get out of a slump and catch fire in time for the conference tournament looming later this month.
While Penn State has show flashes of brilliance, allowing five third period goals across two games to a very beatable Ohio State team during a series that could have helped them out in the race for top seeding in the Big Ten is a very young team mistake. That's not to say the Nittany Lions are posers or their record is an overestimation of their talents, but this team is still in their infancy years and mistakes are expected to be made.
There's still time to correct the course heading into the tournament and it's going to take a lot of mental toughness to get through the last two weeks of the season for Penn State with their hardest challenges still to come.
Penn State's final home stand of the season will be against new-found Big Ten rival Michigan (19-11-0, 11-5-0 Big Ten), with games slated for Friday and Saturday as Penn State looks to take the regular season series. Last time out in Ann Arbor, Penn State split the weekend with a 3-2 win and an 8-1 loss back in November against the Wolverines.