Penn State hockey fans are starting to get spoiled.
The Nittany Lions just keep on winning, and they keep on chalking up program milestones.
Penn State completed a season sweep of Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon at Pegula Ice Arena with a 4-1 win, the first time in program history it has taken all four games against a conference opponent in a season, while also earning its first Big Ten home sweep.
The Nittany Lions also improved their unbeaten streak to eight straight, tied for best in the nation.
“That’s good stuff,” said Dylan Richard, who netted the game-winner. “We’re not really looking at stats like that, we’re just trying to go into every weekend trying to get a sweep. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, sometimes it does. But that’s fantastic.”
Luke Juha, James Robinson and Erik Autio also scored as the Nittany Lions (15-7-4, 7-2-1 Big Ten) moved alone into second place in the conference, two points behind leader Michigan. Penn State, which saw nine goals from nine different players on the weekend, including two defensemen, also improved to 10-1-3 at home this season.
Backing up the Nittany Lions was P.J. Musico, making his third straight start and posting 27 saves to help the team hold an opponent to two goals or fewer for the sixth time in the last eight outings.
Adam Rockwood netted the lone goal as Wisconsin (2-18-4, 0-8-2-2) extended its winless streak to 10 and is still looking for its first victory in the conference.
“That’s very difficult,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said of the sweep. “I think we caught them at a good time. They’re a lot more talented than their record shows right now.”
Joel Rumpel made 39 saves in the loss as the Badgers were outshot 43-28.
The game turned on an 88-second stretch of the third period.
With Penn State holding a 2-1 lead, the Badgers were cranking up the offensive pressure in the third period.
The Badgers thought they had the game tied eight minutes into the third when Aiden Cavallini redirected a Jason Ford blast, but the officials denied the goal because the deflection was made with a high stick. A lengthy delay ensued as the officials reviewed the play before saying no.
“It takes away some of the momentum because it was take a long time off, it probably helped us,” Gadowsky said. “We’ve been through that.”
It brought life to the arena as the Penn State faithful were able to exhale.
“Coach Gadowsky on the bench, when they were going upstairs and reviewing it, he kept saying like, ‘Either way, we’ve got to come out hard, we’ve got to come out hard,’” Robinson said. “The guys responded well to that and I think we were the next shift out.”
Just 88 seconds later, Robinson buried the puck in the net to put the margin back to two goals. His third goal of the season came thanks to some hard work by Curtis Loik.
“Loik did a great job in the corner,” Robinson said. “He outmuscled two guys and the puck got loose there. I was just able to get a shot on net.”
Robinson missed Friday’s game recovering from the flu but didn’t feel too out of shape Saturday.
Badgers coach Mike Eaves thought his team wasn’t hurt as much by the lost goal as much as giving up Robinson’s score.
“We kind of had a little air go out of our balloon when they made it 3-1,” Eaves said. “Guys were excited for (the goal), kind of excited on the bench. I didn’t think there was a drop at that point.”
Autio finished the scoring with 1:14 left, knocking in a rebound as Penn State peppered Rumpel with shots during a power play. It was Autio’s first career collegiate goal.
Juha opened the scoring with a blast from the point, teeing off on a cross-ice feed from Casey Bailey. It was Juha’s first goal since Dec. 1, 2013, against Union.
Penn State struck again 3:03 into the second, when Eric Scheid picked the pocket of a Badger at the blue line to start a quick 2 on 1 break with Richard, who redirected the pass for his sixth goal of the year.
“(I saw an) empty net, really. All I had to do was make contact,” Richard said. “It was a great play by him, a great head’s up look, looking off the goalie and D-man. It was easy.”
It was the first of two assists for Scheid on the day.
“The pass to Rocket was unbelievable,” Gadowsky said of the junior. “He’s a hockey player. When he’s moving his feet he really does play at a different speed than everybody on the ice. He’s huge, absolutely huge.”
Wisconsin got on the board when Grant Besse fed the puck from the boards during a 4 on 4 situation to Rockwood in the slot, who waited for an opening and fired a wrist shot past Musico.
Notes: Penn State leaves the state for the first time since Dec. 6, visiting Michigan State next Friday and Saturday. The Spartans are third in the conference standings. … The announced crowd was 6,103 for the 13th sellout of the season. … The Nittany Lions outscored the Badgers 18-7 in the four games. … The team has outscored opponents 20-9 in the third period since Jan. 9. … Taylor Holstrom picked up his 21st assist of the season, with Nate Jensen and Scott Conway also earning assists. … The scores for Juha and Autio gave Penn State two goals by defensemen for the first time since Nov. 1, 2013. … The Lions were 2 for 5 on the power play, while the Badgers were 0 for 5, including not converting on a first-period 5 on 3 opportunity.