It was appropriate that a bouncing puck slipped out of the offensive zone and eventually -motivated greatly by a shot- found its way into Penn State’s empty net, giving Michigan State a 6-4 victory over the Nittany Lions.
Fitting, if only because for six periods Penn State never really looked like it so often does. Sloppy passes, turnovers, icings and missed chances. For a team that prides itself in being on the of the most dynamic offenses in college hockey, the Nittany Lions looked mortal against a team that -on paper- should have posed little issue for Penn State.
But on Saturday night it was Logan Lambdin scoring 7:25 into the first period as the Spartans ripped off 14 shots at Peyton Jones making his sixth straight start in goal. Alec Marsh would tally one of his own not long after, but two goals in the final minute of the opening period on by Tommy Apap and another by Taro Hirose put Penn State behind 3-1 after 20 minutes.
“I don’t know if we would have learned our lesson if we had gone in tied,” Coach Guy Gadowsky said after the game. “That’s easier to say if we would have won though.”
“I think that was the worst mentality that we came out with,” Gadowsky added. “Obviously, that’s my responsibility to make sure that we’re ready to play at the drop of the puck. Clearly we weren’t. And clearly Michigan State was. Regardless of what happened after the first period, that set the tone.”
Of course, Penn State didn’t win, as some evident by the 6-4 result but back-to-back goals by Chase Berger tied the game at three heading into the second intermission.
Gadowsky looked to the sky after the game as he described the opening few minutes of the third period, Michigan State scoring just 1:34 into the frame to go ahead 4-3.
“The hockey gods just don’t let you get away with that,” Gadowsky said.
if there was any proof of that, it was the two posts Penn State hit in the following minutes.
Or the loose puck that sat inches from going in, only to be covered by Spartan goalie John Lethemon.
Or the post, again.
There were chances, they just never fell.
Which was fitting in its own way for a team that never really looked like the offensive juggernaut it can be. Nate Sucese made things interesting with under seven minutes to go with a blast from the right circle, but that was as close as Penn State got.
The good news for Penn State, the Nittany Lions are just six points out of first place, trailing Ohio State after the Buckeyes split against Michigan this weekend. Ohio State visits State College next weekend for a series that will do much to set the tone for the final few months of the Big Ten regular season race.
The bad news, how that narrative plays out, and how much Penn State is involved, might come down to losses that should have been wins, as much as the actual head-to-head games against the Buckeyes.