Ohio State knew it was Penn State’s offense that it had to worry about coming in.
The Nittany Lions averaged an NCAA-leading 4.59 goals per game, while their 3.65 goals against per game was fourth-worst in the country.
But on Sunday, it was both the defense and the offense that gave the Buckeyes troubles, falling to Penn State 5-1, eliminating Ohio State from the Big Ten tournament.
The loss is Ohio State’s fifth in its past seven games.
“I’m nothing but disappointed right now,” head coach Steve Rohlik said. “We got a good hockey team in that locker room, we’ve played some really good hockey this year, we certainly weren’t at our best tonight.”
The Nittany Lions outshot the Buckeyes 36-32, putting four past sophomore goalie Tommy Nappier, who came in with the No. 2 save percentage in the country.
The second period was where the game was ultimately decided.
With 2:24 to go in the period, junior forward Tanner Laczynski put the Buckeyes back within one with 2:24 remaining. But the goal was reviewed and overturned due to an offsides call, keeping Penn State up three heading into the third period.
“It was a big time goal at the end of the period,” senior forward Mason Jobst said. “We would’ve had a little bit of energy going into the third, but it’s part of the game, and that’s just the way it goes.”
The three-goal lead ended up being more than enough for the Nittany Lions to move forward to face Notre Dame in the Big Ten championship game.
Already down two from the opening period, Ohio State senior defenseman Sasha Larocque was given a major penalty and game misconduct for a hit to the head of sophomore Adam Pilewicz.
On the ensuing Penn State power play, which ranked No. 3 in the NCAA coming in, junior defenseman Kris Myllari found junior forward Brandon Biro on the back post of the Ohio State goal for an easy tap in with 10 seconds remaining on the man advantage, giving the Nittany Lions a 3-0 lead.
“That was a big blow to lose our captain,” Jobst said. “If we could have just got that last little bit killed off, it would have gave us a little boost of energy when you kill a five-[minute penalty] like that, and that was pretty disappointing.”
The third period started with more of the same for Penn State. Junior forward Nate Sucese slipped a puck passed Nappier’s five-hole to extend the lead to 4-0.
Senior forward John Wiitala scored with less than five minutes remaining in the final period to cut the lead back to within three, but it was not enough to mount the comeback.
Sucese also scored an empty-net goal with 46.8 seconds remaining to make the score 5-1.
Nappier finished the game with 31 saves, allowing the tied-most goals against this season, most recently allowing four, again, to Penn State on Jan. 19. Junior goalie Peyton Jones made 31 saves in the game for the Nittany Lions.
The scoring was opened up by Penn State junior forward Liam Folkes, who was the hero for the Nittany Lions in their previous series against Wisconsin. After scoring nine points and earning NCAA Second Star of the Week against the Badgers, Folkes scored the opener on a wide-open move in the middle, giving Nappier no chance to make a play.
It appeared that Penn State would hold a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission, but with less than a second to go in the period, sophomore forward Alex Limoges narrowly beat Nappier to the left side, with the puck trickling past the sophomore goalie to give the Nittany Lions a 2-0 lead early.
“I think we had a good start, and I think once they scored the first goal, I think we had a disappointing end of the first period,” Rohlik said. “That’s a good hockey team there that’s gonna capitalize, and they did.”
Ohio State will now wait to see if it will earn an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament.