It was a good start and a good finish for the Penn State men’s hockey team.
The Nittany Lions scored two first-period goals, including the first of two on the night by Eric Scheid, in a 5-2 victory over Wisconsin in the opening game of the Big Ten Tournament at Xcel Energy Center.
Connor Varley, Ricky DeRosa and Tommy Olczyk scored the other goals while Luke Juha assisted on three tallies for the Nittany Lions (21-12-4), who get a rematch with Michigan at 5 p.m. Friday in the semifinals.
Penn State was swept by the Wolverines in all four meetings during the regular season, including 7-1 and 6-1 losses last weekend in Ann Arbor.
“We have a few guys back — I think that will give us a little jump,” coach Guy Gadowsky told the Big Ten Network after the game. “We’ve got to get back to doing what we do well. They’ve had our number lately but we’d like to turn the tables.”
Eamon McAdam made 35 saves for the win.
Luke Kunin and Grant Besse scored for the Badgers (8-19-8) while Matt Jurusik stopped 24 shots.
Penn State matched its season low with 29 shots on goal.
Scheid put on a nifty move for the opening goal, but it was made possible by a sparkling pass from Juha, lofting the puck over the Badger defense to a breaking Scheid. The senior knocked the puck out of the air with his glove near the faceoff circles and broke in alone on Jurusik, crossing in front and slipping the puck between the goalie’s legs.
“I just saw the (defenseman) was a little flat-footed and Scheid’s got NHL speed,” Juha told the Big Ten Network after the game. “I just tried to flick it in an area where he can touch it first, and we got lucky on a nice little bounce there.”
Penn State had lost three straight entering the tournament, and in two of those games had been the first to score. Before that stretch the team hadn’t lost all season when scoring first. This time the lead stuck.
“Getting out to a quick start is always really big,” Scheid told the media after the game. “It’s good to get the first goal and then to get it early like that, it plays a huge role in the momentum of the game and I thought our guys responded well in the first period after that goal and I think we continue to roll from there.”
Varley added the second goal with a rocket from the point over Jurusik’s shoulder after David Goodwin won a draw and Scheid slipped the puck back to the senior defenseman. It was the senior defenseman’s first goal since Dec. 29.
Kunin sliced the lead in half early in the second with the 19th goal of the season by the Badger freshman.
Penn State padded the lead with two goals 95 seconds apart late in the second.
A drop pass from Juha as the Lions broke into the Badger zone set up a rocket wrist shot from DeRosa, then off a turnover DeRosa sent the puck ahead to Olczyk on a breakaway to give the senior his 11th score of the season.
Wisconsin struck back early in the third when Besse was alone next to the net and knocked in a rebound. The team pulled Jurusik for the final two minutes and Besse hit the crossbar, but the team never got it in the net.
Facing a comeback from a three-goal deficit was a tall task for the Badgers.
“When we got that second goal, there was spark,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “And that’s what we’re talking about on the bench — get that next goal, get a spark, make it a fire. And then, you know, when Grant (Besse) hit that cross-bar, can you imagine the fire that would have been there if it’s 4-3 now.”
Scheid closed the scoring with an empty-net tally in the final minute to give him 13 goals on the season. The five goals surpassed the four total for the Lions in three previous Big Ten Tournament games.