There’s no quit in the Penn State men’s hockey team.
On several occasions Sunday, with little time left on the clock, the Nittany Lions took advantage en route to a stunning 5-1 upset win over top-seeded Ohio State (20-10-5) in the Big Ten tournament semifinals at Columbus. No. 4-seed Penn State (22-14-2) will next take on No. 2-seed Notre Dame in the conference championship game Saturday night.
It is Penn State’s second Big Ten title appearance in the last three years. It won the conference tournament in 2017.
“We’ve produced in the playoffs before, and this is nothing new for us,” junior forward Liam Folkes told the Big Ten Network after the game.
The Nittany Lions opened the scoring about 12 minutes into the contest after Folkes faked out OSU’s goalie on the first move and found an empty net, following a turnover. The next two goals proved to be incredibly timely.
With just 1.2 seconds left in the first period, Alex Limoges scored after getting a shot off with top spin. The puck hit the top of the goalie’s left pad and found the back of the net. In the next period, with just 10 seconds left in a power play, Brandon Biro scored after Penn State won the puck battle on the wall and moved it back inside.
Nate Sucese added an insurance goal early on in the final period and then added a short-handed empty-net goal in the final minute. Ohio State, ranked No. 6 in the nation, scored its only goal of the game with 4:22 left in regulation, from Jon Wiitala, to make it 4-1.
“I think we did a little bit better job of getting pucks to the net,” Penn State assistant Matt Lindsay told the Penn State Sports Network. “And once you get that puck to the net and sort of force them defensively to have to turn and find a man, find a puck, it kind of breaks down their structure. ... I thought we were much more determined and committed to getting that puck to the net and creating that situation.”
Player of the game: Goalie Peyton Jones
Sure, you can give this to Penn State’s entire first line, and it’d be difficult to argue. But for a team that’s struggled with defense this season, Jones’ performance was an obvious highlight.
He made several key stops in the first period, stopped a breakaway in the second and sat on a big lead in the third. He finished with 31 saves in the win. The only goal he allowed came with an extra attacker with about four minutes left in regulation.
It was hard to ask Jones to do anymore than he did Sunday.
Turning point: Series of plays midway through the second period
Penn State’s lead and momentum were both threatened in the second period, but the Nittany Lions came out on top in a big way.
Although Penn State led 2-0 and Ohio State was called for a major, Jones was forced to make a key breakaway save about two minutes into the penalty. Ohio State senior Mason Jobst stared up at the ceiling in frustration after the save.
Less than two minutes later, with 10 seconds left in the Penn State power play, Biro found the back of the net for the blue-and-white to give it a three-goal lead.
“That was probably the TSN turning point there,” Lindsay said. “It’s a 2-0 hockey game, we’re on a power play, and it goes from 2-1 to 3-0. That’s a huge save, and I think that really pumped the guys up. And when you look back, that was probably a huge, huge sequence in the game.”
To add insult to Ohio State injury, about six minutes after that, a Buckeyes goal was overturned after a review clearly showed they were offsides.
That eight-minute span in the second period was a microcosm of the game — and ensured a Penn State win.
Milestone: Alex Limoges makes history
Limoges, a sophomore, scored his 23rd goal of the season to set a new Penn State single-season record. He also became the first Nittany Lion to ever hit the 50-point mark.
Up next: No. 17 Penn State vs. No. 16 Notre Dame
Notre Dame defeated Minnesota 2-1 in overtime Saturday night after a controversial penalty in the extra period. The Fighting Irish will now play Penn State in the championship game at 8 p.m. Saturday in South Bend, Ind.
The two teams have played four times this season, splitting the regular-season series 2-2. Three games were decided by one goal, while Penn State demolished Notre Dame 9-1 in December at Pegula Ice Arena.
To make the NCAA tournament, Penn State will still almost certainly have to beat the Irish.