As the Wisconsin men’s hockey team entered its eleventh overtime game of the season with Penn State, the unnerving feeling of a must-win situation was overwhelming.
With just one minute to play in extra time, a tie seemed imminent. But as Penn State junior forward Taylor Holstrom continued to hack away at a loose puck, the Badgers watched their NCAA tournament hopes slip farther away when the Nittany Lion put away the game-winning goal with just 34 seconds left on the clock.
After shutting out Penn State 5-0 in game one of the non-conference series, the Nittany Lions (13-13-0) roared back from a short two-goal deficit to upset the No. 18 Badgers (14-11-7, 10-7-7 WCHA) 3-2.
“We’re going to look back at this and say, this was a game of missed opportunities,” head coach Mike Eaves said. “We’re probably going to look at the film and say we out-chanced them two to one and we didn’t score enough to put it out of the game in regulation.”
Holstrom was the first to get Penn State on the board at the 6:48 mark of the third period, only seven seconds after Wisconsin made it 2-0. Penn State won the center ice faceoff and, according to sophomore goaltender Landon Peterson, Holstrom’s shot ricocheted off a Badger glove causing him to lose sight of the puck.
Penn State tied things up 2-2 just less than six minutes later as freshman forward Casey Bailey capitalized on their fourth power play of the evening while junior forward Michael Mersch took a seat in the sin bin for slashing. Bailey beat Peterson five-hole as the Oregon, Wis. native attempted to clear the puck.
The 3-2 overtime win was the final game for the Nittany Lions as they played as an independent this year and will join the Big Ten next year — along with the Badgers.
Despite the loss, the Badgers outshot the Nittany Lions 44-36, with 20 of those shots coming in the middle period.
After opening the second period with some sloppy play, Wisconsin eventually took command, putting up the majority of its 20 shots in the final 14 minutes of the period.
The boosted offense finally helped the Badgers get on the board and junior center Mark Zengerle scored his first goal since Feb. 2 against North Dakota to give Wisconsin a 1-0 lead.
Zengerle worked the puck around the Penn State defense at the blue line, gaining a 2-on-1 situation with freshman winger Nic Kerdiles. After passing back and forth in the slot to get the misdirection, Zengerle chipped the puck up into the net for the score at the 16:40 mark of the second period. The Rochester, N.Y. native led the Badgers with six shots on net on the night.
Still rolling after a hot finish in the second, sophomore forward Joseph LaBate notched a wrister from left top of the left circle top shelf for the 2-0 lead.
The Badgers certainly weren’t short on chances Monday night; they just couldn’t capitalize often enough.
“I think we had plenty of chances to try and get that cushion to put them away,” Zengerle said. “Their goalie played pretty well but at the same time, we have to finish our opportunities.”
Those opportunities included a meager four shots on four power play chances on the night. After scoring two power play goals Sunday night on seven chances, the Badgers weren’t able to capitalize — especially after losing senior forward Derek Lee around the 9:40 mark of the first period due to an unspecified leg injury.
Lee, who quarterbacks the power play, was only on the ice for the Badgers first man-advantage of the night. Eaves has maintained time and again that the power play suffers due to a lack of identity, especially when Lee isn’t there.
Regardless of how successful the power play is or isn’t, with the upset, the Badgers’ postseason hopes have fallen into dire straits. With two WCHA series left to close the season, Wisconsin does control its own fate, but making the NCAA tournament will be a more difficult task.
“What can you do about it? It happened, we have to get back to work,” sophomore defenseman Jake McCabe said succinctly.
“I wouldn’t say momentum’s been lost, but it’s devastating,” Zengerle added.