Penn State Hockey

Penn State men’s hockey: Michigan State finishes off sweep of Nittany Lions

Penn State came into the weekend at Michigan State with an eight-game winning streak.

The Nittany Lions left Munn Ice Arena with a two-game losing skid.

Mackenzie MacEachern scored a goal in each period as the Spartans (16-9-3 overall, 6-4-2 Big Ten) turned back the Nittany Lions 3-2. Connor Varley and Casey Bailey scored for Penn State (15-9-4, 7-4-1). Pending the result between first-place Michigan (8-3-0, 24 points) and third-place Minnesota (6-2-3, 21 points) later Saturday, the Nittany Lions (22 points) could either fall farther behind the Wolverines or down to third behind the Gophers.

Spartan goalie Jake Hildebrand, who shut out Penn State 3-0 on Friday, stopped 40 shots in Saturday’s triumph.

Penn State hurt itself with eight penalties, which led to a pair of power-play goals by MacEachern.

The Nittany Lions, who were outshot for just the fourth time this season on Friday, came out firing in the first period, but had nothing to show for it. They failed to convert on a pair of power play opportunities, including one just 36 seconds into the game.

The Spartans drew first blood against Matthew Skoff, who replaced recent starter P.J. Musico, thanks to a fortunate bounce midway through the period. Ron Boyd fired a shot off the boards behind the Penn State goal and it ricocheted right to MacEachern, who beat Skoff high to his stick side at the 10:02 mark.

Penn State kept the pressure on the remainder of the period and held a 15-8 edge in shots, but couldn’t beat Hildebrand.

The Nittany Lions finally got even thanks to Michigan State’s third penalty of the game. Eric Scheid fed Varley at the point and the defenseman ripped a slapshot past Hildebrand at 12:29 on Penn State’s 24th shot of the game.

But the Nittany Lions would cost themselves with penalties. Bailey and Varley were in the box as the Spartans converted on a two-man advantage. MacEachern was the benefit of another good bounce as he picked off the rebound from Skoff’s initial save and scored to the glove side of the PSU goalie with 6:37 left in the period.

Like the first period, Penn State dominated the second period in shooting but left trailing by a goal. The Nittany Lions had a 21-12 edge in shots in a period that was very chippy.

The penalties reached a peak in the third period as the two teams combined for five. The first one proved to be the difference.

After Curtis Loik was sent off for high sticking, MacEachern struck again. The St. Louis Blues draft choice was camped on the right post, took a pass and scored his 10th goal of the season, easily beating a sprawling Skoff to the glove side with 10:38 left in the game.

The Spartans, who outshot the Nittany Lions 9-6 in the period, appeared to have the game in control late, but Penn State went for broke, pulling Skoff with about three minutes to go in a 4-on-4 situation.

It worked immediately. Nate Jensen brought the puck the length of the ice and slid it to Bailey, who ripped a shot over Hildebrand’s left shoulder to make the score 3-2 with 2:24 left.

The Nittany Lions kept the extra attacker on the ice from there and kept the pressure on Hildebrand, whose defense blocked 25 shots on the evening. Penn State had one last chance on a faceoff with less than five seconds remaining, but Zach Saar’s backhander was deflected out of play with 0.8 seconds left.

“I thought it was a real gutty effort,” Spartan coach Tony Anastos told the Big Ten Network after the game. “It was a big weekend for us.”

Skoff finished with 26 saves in his first start since Jan. 23.

Penn State returns to action Friday for a 6:30 p.m. start against Minnesota at Pegula Ice Arena.

Notes: Penn State was swept for the first time this season. ... The Nittany Lions fell to 4-5-0 on the road and 5-8-1 in games away from Pegula Ice Arena. ... Michigan State won the season series 2-1-1. ... Bailey became the first Big Ten player to reach 20 goals this season.

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