UNIVERSITY PARK When the puck bounced into the net a few minutes into the third period, the excitement and energy inside Pegula Ice Arena was overwhelming, and fans groaned with each missed scoring chance afterwards.
But after standing toe-to-toe with the nation’s best team all night, the party was spoiled with four minutes left.
Ben Marshall scored the game-winner as No. 1 Minnesota edged Penn State 3-2 in the first home Big Ten hockey game.
“It’s more that it was a 2-2 game with the top team in the nation,” said Penn State goaltender Eamon McAdam, who had a spectacular game Sunday night with 42 saves. “You’re sitting in the net the whole entire third period thinking, ‘All right, just shut ’em down, shut ’em down, shut ’em down, we’ll pull this game out.’ For one to go in, it’s a bit of a letdown.”
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The Golden Gophers peppered McAdam with a 45-30 shot disparity, had the faster skaters and a more talented roster with 14 players drafted by NHL teams, but the Nittany Lions hardly looked intimidated.
“They had 45 shots on net,” Gadowsky said, “it’s pretty tough to keep them all out.”
In the first home game in 41 days, Brady Skjei and Mike Reilly scored for the Gophers (14-2-3, 4-0 Big Ten) while Taylor Holstrom and David Glen had the scores for Penn State (4-11-1, 0-3).
Minnesota goalie Adam Wilcox made 28 saves in the win.
The teams meet again at 7 p.m. Monday to complete the two-game series.
McAdam had everyone’s attention with his play, recovering from allowing a score on the Gophers’ first shot on goal of the night to put up a wall around the net.
“Tip the hat to their goaltender,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “He played very well for Penn State. We had a lot of good looks and good rebound opportunities, but he was there to make the save almost every time.”
“He gave us a chance to win,” Gadowsky said. “We didn’t get it done for him, but it was by far his best outing of the year.”
Among the highlights, McAdam made a spectacular save on the Gopher’s Sam Warning as the forward skated alone on the Lion net. Lying face-down on the ice, McAdam extended his left leg to block Warning’s attempt midway through the second period.
McAdam also robbed Hudson Fasching on a rebound shot in the third, then stuffed Fasching and Taylor Cammara on a give-and-go not long after.
“You get in a groove and you really start rolling,” McAdam said. “Stuff just seems to hit you, even if you don’t see it. Bounces start going your way and eventually it starts going your way for the whole team if you can build on it enough. That’s what happen tonight, we just didn’t pull it out in the end.”
It was just seconds later that Minnesota got the game-winner.
With 4:01 left, Marshall took the puck from Kyle Rau at the blue line, skated a little toward the middle of the ice and unleashed a blast that rang off the post and into the net.
“They came in on a 2-on-1 save, then they get bounced out of the zone,” McAdam said. “They came back in, the guy walked the blue line and shot a good shot, put it post-in — I never saw it. Just a good goal. Perfect day I want to save it, you want to find it through that screen, but overall I thought it was a pretty good goal.”
The defense’s inability to get the puck cleared led to the score — and the best teams pounce on those kind of opportunities.
“We almost scored earlier on that shift,” Lucia said. “We did a good job retrieving the puck and getting it back to our point. We’ve got some guys back there that can make some plays and shoot. … We had some people in front of the net, with some traffic, and it was a heck of a shot off the post and in.”
“The last goal we didn’t get the puck deep,” Holstrom said. “They turned around and we got tired in our (defensive) zone. We were in there for a while and got caught kind of running around.”
Minnesota converted on its very first opportunity, with a rebound sliding all the way out to Skjei in the circle, as the defenseman and first-round New York Rangers draft pick ripped a shot low to McAdam’s glove side.
Just 30 seconds into a second-period power play, Reilly made it 2-0, unleashing a rocket from the blue line through a maze of players in front of the net that McAdam could not see. All three Minnesota scores came from defensemen.
Holstrom broke through on Wilcox with 1:51 left in the second, taking a feed from David Goodwin from the corner and redirecting the puck to cut the lead in half. David Thompson also assisted on the score.
Glen tied it 3:45 into the third while stationed in front of Wilcox. Nate Jensen unleashed a blast from the point and Glen redirected the puck with his stick about a foot off the ice, bouncing it past Wilcox. Mark Yanis also picked up an assist.
“I personally jumped up. I was excited,” Holstrom said. “(To) even it up at that point in the game, it was a big boost for us, I thought. It gave us life … it gave us life, it gave us hope that we’re with these guys, No. 1 in the country. We’re dead even with them.”
Notes: It marked Penn State’s first home game since a loss to No. 4 Union on Dec. 1. It was just the fifth game in that time span for the Nittany Lions. … Following Monday’s game, Penn State hits the road for a pair of games at Michigan State on Friday and Saturday. … The Penn State Lion Ambassadors will host a free “Pegula Palooza” from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday at the arena, with food, entertainment, a tour of the building and a talk with Gadowsky. No game tickets are needed for the event. … While the announced attendance was 5,999, there were a number of empty seats, including most of the top six rows of the student section. … The Reilly brothers, who had a goal (Mike) and assist (Connor) Sunday, will see their sister Caitlin join the Penn State women’s team in the fall.