STATE COLLEGE, PENN. –– A thrilling comeback on back-to-back nights seemed too good to be true for the Michigan hockey team. But what ensued on Saturday was thrilling nonetheless.
After roaring back from a deficit in the third period for the second night in a row, the 16th-ranked Wolverines could not finish the job, falling to No. 5 Penn State in overtime, 7-6.
The scoring got off to a quick start on the second night of the series between the teams.
Sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes was penalized for hooking just 0:38 into the game, sending the Nittany Lions to an early power play.
And less than one minute into the one-man advantage, forward Evan Barratt got Penn State out to an early 1-0 lead. Forward Liam Folkes skated up the left wing and passed across to Barratt who was set up in the slot just outside of the right faceoff circle. The duo got freshman goaltender Strauss Mann moving from right to left in the crease, and Barratt slotted the puck out of his reach to his left.
Just two minutes later, the Nittany Lions struck again.
Forward Aarne Talvitie streaked down left wing, shot to the far side and into the top right corner of the net past the glove of Mann to extend the lead to 2-0. With that goal, Penn State had struck twine on their first two shots of the night. After coming up with several big stops on Friday, Mann had earned his first back-to-back starts and was showing signs of struggle, while the Michigan defense failed pounce on 50-50 pucks in their own defensive zone, leading to plenty of early opportunities for the Nittany Lions. However, Mann remained even-keeled and came up with several big stops before the Wolverines cut into the lead.
Near the halfway mark of the period, junior forward Nick Pastujov scored on a loose puck out in front of the crease. The initial shot came in from sophomore forward Josh Becker who streaked up the right wing on a pass from freshman defenseman Nick Blankenburg. Pastujov corralled the puck after Penn State’s defense was unable to clear it, making it 2-1.
After Michigan’s initial goal, the defense seemed to pick up steam and began to win more pucks in their own zone. As the defense found some temporary success, the offense began controlling possession and getting more opportunities.
And four minutes after Pastujov cut the lead in half, junior forward Will Lockwood, tied it up at 2-2. Junior forward Jake Slaker found Lockwood in the left faceoff circle. As Lockwood attempted to pass to an open sophomore forward Josh Norris, the puck took a deflection off a defender’s stick and past junior goaltender Peyton Jones.
The period ended 2-2 with a combined 33 shots for the two teams.
In the second period, the defensive intensity continued for the Wolverines. With that came some opportunities for offense, but they failed to capitalize.
After a pair of minor penalties on freshman forward Garrett Van Wyhe and Penn State defenseman Kevin Kerr, four on four play ensued, and the Nittany Lions regained the lead as Barratt skated into the offensive zone towards the right faceoff circle with the puck, seemingly unmarked, and fired past Mann.
Four minutes later Barratt scored again to complete the hat trick and gave Penn State a 4-2 lead heading into the second intermission. It was the same deficit Michigan faced on Friday night.
Early in the third period, the Wolverines pulled within one as Hughes found sophomore forward Dakota Raabe from the left side of the ice as he put the puck past Jones, making the score 4-3.
But the Nittany Lions were stubborn, not wanting to replicate the events of Friday. Just when it appeared Michigan had regained momentum, Penn State answered again and jumped out to a two-goal lead once more.
“(The defense was) just casual,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “Not picking guys up, not playing aggressive at times. We looked confused in our zone, everybody trying to do somebody else’s job. Not trusting the communication, I mean a number of things.”
Then, once again, the Wolverines scored to pull within a goal on a deflection from Pastujov, only to be answered yet again to make it 6-4 with eight minutes remaining.
But the opportunity was there once more for Michigan, and for the third time in the period, they pulled within one goal. The puck found Van Wyhe with time and space in the right slot, and he fired a wrister to the top left corner into the net.
“It’s crazy,” Pearson said. “Two nights in a row we’re down 4-2 going into the third period, and we come out and score the first goal to make it 4-3, and here we go again.”
Then, with 1:05 remaining in the period, Norris fired a shot towards the net, and the puck snuck under the crossbar on a deflection off the stick of Lockwood to tie the game at six and send the game to overtime.
The comeback came was all for naught, though.
The Nittany Lions won the opening draw in overtime and fired the puck on net. Mann was unable to corral puck, and the rebound spewed out in front of the crease. Forward Sam Sternschein won the race to the net and scored, extinguishing the short-lived joy of the comeback for Michigan and winning the game for Penn State.
“I’ve been in this game 37 years in college hockey and I don’t think I’ve ever seen an ending quite like that on an innocent play,” Pearason said. “They just pushed forward to the puck, they shoot it and it goes off Strauss, he can’t control the rebound and they beat us to the puck… so, a tough way to lose, especially when you don’t get any points out of it –– points are so critical. We got a lot of work to do, but I did like the resiliency our team showed tonight.”
In a series where both sides showcased their offensive firepower, the Wolverines’ defense was unable to replicate the third-period performance that earned them a victory on Friday.