In front of the largest crowd at Munn Ice Arena since March 13, 2015, No. 19 Michigan State (13-12-1) was unable to sweep No. 9 Penn State (17-8-1) on Saturday night, falling to the Nittany Lions 2-1 in overtime.
It was a back-and forth, physical affair between the Big Ten rivals, but the green and white ultimately couldn’t capitalize on their scoring chances despite finishing the game with 43 shots on goal. Junior forward Tommy Apap scored the lone goal for MSU, while senior goaltender John Lethemon finished with 31 saves.
“I thought we played a heck of a game,” coach Danton Cole said. “One of the better games we played all year ... as a staff we’re real proud of the way the guys played … we battled and played hard, just couldn’t get the second one before they did unfortunately.”
The Spartans dictated the pace of the game early, looking a little more fresh than Penn State after an exhilarating 4-2 win the night before. Just a couple minutes into the first period, sophomore center Josh Nodler was unable to convert on one of the team’s better scoring chances of the entire game. As he broke loose and found himself alone in the slot, Nodler received a pass from the corner that he immediately tried to redirect into the net, but the puck went right into the chest of PSU goaltender Peyton Jones to keep the game scoreless.
MSU would get their first power play opportunity of the game late in the first period, but struggled to get anything going and the Nittany Lions were able to kill the penalty off. After 20 minutes of play, Penn State held a 10-7 advantage in shots as the two teams headed back to the locker room tied at zero.
As the second period got underway, you could sense the frustration from both teams as they continued to generate quality scoring chances but couldn’t find the back of the net. Nine minutes into the period, senior forward Logan Lambdin netted himself a golden opportunity to give the Spartans the lead in front of a sold-out Munn Ice Arena.
Camping out on the blue line, Lambdin took a cross-ice pass and quickly bolted in the offensive zone on a breakaway. Jones saw Lambdin the whole way in, coming up with another huge save for PSU to keep the green and white off the board.
With just 42.2 seconds remaining in the second period, it would be the Nittany Lions who would finally break through. PSU center Nate Sucese corralled the puck on the right faceoff dot in the offensive zone with no one around him. With his back turned to the net, Sucese shifted to his forehand and fired the puck past Lethemon to give Penn State the 1-0 lead.
Penn State started the third period on the power play due to a Spartan penalty that carried over from the second period. As the Nittany Lions set things up in their offensive zone, MSU would finally get a puck to bounce their way. A pass back to a Penn State defender went right over his stick and out of the zone, leaving the puck up for grabs as Apap surged to claim it. Speeding in on a breakaway, Apap gave a slight shoulder fake and roofed one past Jones to tie the game 1-1 just 17 seconds in.
The crowd remained on the edges of their seats as the period continued, with everything from post-whistle scrums and the ringing of goalposts in effect. There was a collective silence, however, with one minute to go in regulation. Lethemon appeared to be in pain and was slow to get up after an altercation in front of the net. After a brief visit with the trainer, Lethemon stayed in the game and the injury didn’t seem to be too serious.
With the way the game was going, it would have appeared one of the two teams was going to break the tie in regulation, but both goalies continued to deliver timely saves for their respective teams. After 60 minutes of play, the score was still 1-1 and an extra five minutes was put on the clock signaling overtime.
Just 40 seconds into the extra frame, PSU freshman forward Connor McMenamin gave the Nittany Lions the coveted series-split. After a shot from PSU defenseman Cole Hults was blocked by Apap, the puck bounced right back out to McMenamin, who put the rebound home to end the game and give Penn State a 2-1 victory.
“Obviously this one stings for sure,” senior forward Sam Saliba said. “(We) generated a lot of offense, a lot of shots on net ... just (have to) keep pushing forward.”
With Ohio State losing to Minnesota tonight, the Spartans are now tied for first place in the Big Ten with Penn State. The team will have next weekend off before traveling to Minnesota on Feb. 7.