STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — On a night where the Big Ten lead was at stake with a playoff atmosphere in the air, the Minnesota Golden Gophers caught the Penn State Nittany Lions before failing to take advantage of the opportunity.
Freshmen Ben Meyers and Bryce Brodzinski put the Gophers ahead with third-period goals, but Minnesota only took one point in a 3-3 tie after Penn State’s Brandon Biro tied the game with his third point of the night. Despite snapping a six-game losing streak at Pegula Arena, Minnesota (14-11-6, 9-6-6-4 Big Ten) ended the night unsatisfied.
“I don’t know if we could have played any poorly, but had a couple guys play any better,” Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko said after the game. “A couple guys willing us through and could have won the game. By so many accounts we didn’t deserve to be in that thing, but there we were at the end.
“There has got to be something good in there for us. We’ll have to figure it out.”
Alex Limoges gave the home team the extra point, scoring with 23.2 seconds remaining in 3-on-3 OT, on a night where Jack LaFontaine made 20 first period saves en route to 54 total.
“(Laffer) he bailed us out many times defensively. We were poor at times. We got off script,” said Gophers co-captain Tyler Nanne. “He’s playing good hockey, but we shouldn’t allow that many shots in the first place.”
Biro’s line with Aarne Talvitie and Nate Sucese clicked on Friday, providing all three Penn State (19-10-4, 11-8-3-1 Big Ten) goals. He set up Talvitie, who beat LaFontaine with a nifty move on a partial breakaway to take the lead 14:29 into the game.
Nanne tied the game midway through the second period with his fourth goal of the season. The senior, who did not practice until Wednesday this week after being injured last Friday, began the play in his own zone before tipping a Sampo Ranta pass past Peyton Jones.
Chances and rebounds were few and far in between for the road team in a penalty-free game where the atmosphere felt closer to the postseason.
“We know how big these games are,” said Limoges. “For us, it’s playoff hockey right now. We’re playing Penn State hockey. …It’s a lot of fun. It was a different atmosphere when we all got to the rink and I think it showed.”
Sucese put Penn State ahead 7:03 into the third period. Limoges appeared to make it 3-1 on the next shift, but the referees ruled it no-goal. Minnesota responded with its freshmen scoring in Meyers and Brodzinski, taking advantage of a rare rebound.
“That’s the one thing that’s so positive about our group. We started the year with so many young guys and so much inexperience. We didn’t know which way it would go,” said Motzko. “Our kids come back every Saturday and Monday and they’re ready to go. That’s what they’ve been doing all year.”
Despite tying and falling one point behind Penn State, the Gophers, holding two games in hand on the Nittany Lions, moved up to 15th in the Pairwise, which mimics the criteria used to decide the NCAA Tournament at-large bids.
Still, the feeling leaving the rink was not being content with the performance and final result.
“You’re not always going to get everyone going. We got to step up tonight, which was huge. But we need a full 60 from the team. We got the guys in the locker room to do it,” Nanne said. “We’re playing good hockey, but there’s always room for improvement.”
Minnesota and Penn State complete a two-game series Saturday night. Puck drop is at 5:30 p.m. Central and will be broadcast on BTN.