NEW YORK CITY — For the second time in two periods, sophomore defenseman Quinn Hughes turned the puck over near center ice.
And for the second time in two periods, No. 15 Penn State (14-10-2 overall, 6-9-1-1 Big Ten) took its chance and ran with it.
This time, the turnover came when the Wolverines were on the man advantage and hoping to cut into the Nittany Lions’ 4-1 lead early in the second period. Hughes lost control of the puck in the middle of the ice, which allowed forward Alex Limoges to grab it and skate in right in front of junior goaltender Hayden Lavigne.
Lavigne sprawled out to make the save as Limoges wound his way to the front of the crease, waiting to shoot the puck until Lavigne was flat on the ice. One quick flip of his stick later and Penn State led, 5-1.
Though Michigan (9-10-6, 5-6-4-2) tacked on another goal in the third period, the comeback came up short. The Nittany Lions went on to take the second game of the series, 5-2.
“We did not get the result we wanted,” said Michigan coach Mel Pearson. “Very frustrating in the locker room because we know we’re a better team. We beat ourselves tonight, plain and simple.”
Penn State averages an NCAA-leading 4.52 goals per game, and the Wolverines allowed them all of that and then some Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
Early in the first period, freshman forward Jimmy Lambert lost the puck at Michigan’s defensive blueline. Forward Evan Barratt, who ranks second in the country with an average of 1.45 points per game, took advantage of his opportunity and fired a shot that beat Lavigne to the upper corner of the net.
Five minutes later, Hughes’ turnover at center ice led to a one-on-zero breakaway for Penn State and Liam Folkes converted.
“It was nice,” said Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky. “(Scoring on breakaways) hasn’t been the case in the past, either. It was nice to get it early. Any time you can capitalize on anything, I think it’s important, but we were able to capitalize on a couple of their mistakes as well.”
Just before the horn sounded to end the first period, junior forward Nick Pastujov had an opportunity on the power play — but his shot rang the post, just as all three of his shots did in the game.
And as the puck went down toward Lavigne, Penn State was able to capitalize on a third one-on-zero chance with a goal from Alec Marsh. With another 40 minutes left to play, Michigan faced a three-goal deficit that looked — and was — insurmountable.
“We made some horrendous turnovers, they took advantage of it,” Pearson said. “That was the game. They got the lead 3-0 and we couldn’t outscore our mistakes tonight.”
Down 4-0 early in the second period, the Wolverines found twine on a shot from Hughes that redshirt junior forward Luke Morgan was able to send past goaltender Peyton Jones. But it proved to be too little, too late as the Nittany Lions extended their lead back to four goals just minutes later.
And once that goal went in to make it 5-1, Lavigne was pulled in favor of Strauss Mann. The freshman goaltender stopped all 19 shots he faced the rest of the way.
“Excellent,” Pearson said of Mann’s performance. “You know, we really like him as a goaltender, and we think he has a bright future at Michigan. I didn’t want to have to get him in like we did but he went in and I give him credit, that’s a tough situation to go in and he played extremely well. He gave us an opportunity to try and get back into the game.”
But despite Mann’s play, defense — or lack thereof — was Michigan’s downfall, just as it was what allowed it to beat Penn State 5-1 at home on Thursday.
“Disappointing outcome, especially after Thursday night’s game,” Pearson said. “I can’t tell you our team wasn’t prepared to play. I thought we had a pretty good first period, outshot them 22-8, out-attempted them 37-16. Hit four posts. But we didn’t make a commitment to team defense.”
Michigan outshot the Nittany Lions for the majority of the game, though Penn State finished the game with a 39-37 shot advantage. Catching the post four times put the Wolverines within millimeters of making it a much closer game.
But as Pearson said, they couldn’t outscore their mistakes.
Coming within millimeters just wasn’t enough.