Series Grades: Minnesota
Penn State has done it once again.
For the second consecutive week, the No. 15 ranked Nittany Lions swept the No. 11 Minnesota Golden Gophers by the scores of 5-3 and 6-5 respectively.
The men of old Mount Nittany will now advance to the Big Ten Semifinals against the No. 1 seed Notre Dame next Saturday at a time to be announced at later date.
Now let’s take a look at the grades for the Big Ten Quarterfinals.
The Penn State offense has been firing on all cylinders as of late and it is happening at the best time possible. While on the power play, the Nittany Lions scored four times and were able to score 11 goals in the series sweep. During game one, Andrew Sturtz sent Pegula into a frenzy with his right toe drag snipe shot past Gopher netminder Mat Robson in the waning moments of the second period. Sturtz’s goal was also featured on Sportscenter’s Top Ten plays. Evan Barratt gave the Minnesota defense headaches once again by scoring three goals throughout the two games while also leading a relentless attack that made life extremely difficult for goaltenders Mat Robson and Eric Schierhorn. Denis Smirnov tallied his team leading 15th goal in game one from the left post on an extremely sharp angle with no Gopher defensemen covering him. The offensive fireworks in these two games definitely did not disappoint and if the momentum carries over into next week’s game, this team will be oozing even more confidence and will become a serious threat later on.
The defensive performance this week was a bit of a step back as compared to last week; however, the Nittany Lions were able to get the job done. The Minnesota offensive attack was far more prepared this week against the Penn State defense and it showed as the Golden Gophers were able to score 8 goals in the two quarterfinal games. At times, the defense made some foolish decisions making hits away from the play. Those hits then led to the ejection of James Robinson in game one and Brett Murray in game two. The second period in game two was also a bit of a low point for the Penn State defense. The Gophers scored four goals in the 20-minute frame and the defensive play was rather sloppy at that time. Aside from the poor game misconduct ejections and tough second period in game two, the defense rose to the occasion when it mattered most. They were able to make enough stops in game one and give the offense an opportunity to score an empty netter. Then in game two, they molded together as one and shut the door on the Gophers in the final minutes to preserve the 6-5 win while also punching a ticket to South Bend for the semifinals.
Although Peyton Jones surrendered 8 goals throughout these two games, he was able to save 67 of the 75 shots thrown his way for a save percentage of 89.33 in the quarterfinals. His performances were a lot stronger than what the numbers indicate. Jones shut down the Minnesota offense during crunch time while also showing the nation that he is one of the nation’s best when the postseason starts. Some of the saves made in this series were blueprints to those made in the Big Ten Tournament last year. Minnesota had breakaway opportunities in both games and Jones denied both shots by simply standing tall in the crease and closing the five-hole. The energy and excitement that Peyton Jones gives his teammates and the Penn State faithful is evident. Both bodies feed off of his amazing saves and strong demeanor in net. Jones also registered an assist in the series as part of Andrew Sturtz’s second period goal in game one.
There was no doubt that Coach Gadowsky’s troops were ready for this series against Minnesota. They came out of the locker room ready to attack and their confidence from the previous week carried over onto a much bigger stage. The offensive and defensive game plans were executed almost to perfection. Although some of the decision making in regards to aggressive tactics could have been questioned, Coach Gadowsky wasn’t going to let his team lose to Minnesota. The Lions left it all out on the ice for these two games and it was fairly obvious that the Blue and White wanted to win more than Minnesota. The 120 minutes of hockey played at Pegula this past weekend sent shockwaves of excitement throughout the Penn State community and Guy Gadowsky is the mastermind of it all. Electric goals, mind-blowing saves, and bone-shattering hits were all on the menu this weekend. It will be interesting to see if the Nittany Lions keep the same intensity from the past four games against the Golden Gophers when they travel to South Bend next weekend.
The Big Ten Semifinals featuring Penn State and Notre Dame is scheduled for Saturday, March 10th at 5 p.m. on ESPNU. The winner of that game will then face off against the winner of Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament final.
Christopher Hess is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism and minoring in history. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.