The score may have been tied 1-1 midway through the first period, but once the Wolverines began to roll, there was never any doubt of the outcome in Yost Ice Arena tonight. Michigan defeated Penn State 6-1 in the final regular-season game of the season, completing a weekend sweep and securing a second-place finish in the final Big Ten standings and a first-round bye for next week’s B1G playoff championship tournament in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“That’s the kind of hockey we have to play and only one goal against,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “For the most part, I thought we had the edge in the play, we had the edge in the score, and I thought we had the edge in chances.”
The Wolverines outshot the Nittany Lions 57-31. Freshman Kyle Connor scored twice, bringing his goal total for the season to 30, tops in the nation.
“He’s such a dangerous player with the puck and you don’t know for sure what he’s going to do, what he’s going to pull off next,” said Berenson, “but one thing is sure: if he gets a scoring chance, it’s going in the net.”
Senior Boo Nieves also scored twice, giving him a career-best nine goals on the season. “Some seniors, they can’t get out of their own way on senior night, they try so hard, but Boo Nieves, he got out of everybody’s way,” said Berenson. “He was one of the best players in the game from start to finish, so good for him.”
Connor opened the scoring at 6:27 in the first, walking into PSU’s zone and ripping one from left of the net and beating Eamon McAdam long. Eric Scheid’s 11th goal of the season tied things up for Penn State at 9:06, a shot from the right that was deflected and fluttered over Michigan senior Steve Racine’s glove.
The deadlock didn’t last long, as Max Shuart scored at 16:29 in the first, backhanding it behind McAdam after drawing the goaltender to the opposite side, and Nieves scored his first on a power play at 18:48 after some nice cycling down low. The Wolverines led 3-1 after one.
In the second, Connor scored his second of the night with a rocket from the right circle at 6:18, and JT Compher added another power-play goal at 7:47, picking up Tyler Motte’s rebound from in front of the net.
The Wolverines had a 22-7 shot advantage in the second period alone, fueled in part by two minutes of five-on-three hockey with Ricky DeRosa’s five-minute major for hitting from behind overlapping Erik Autio’s hooking call. Compher scored early during the call against DeRosa, who also received a game misconduct.
With the Wolverines leading 5-1 at the start of the third, Nieves got his second of the night 48 seconds in to make it 6-1, firing from the left circle to get behind PSU goalie Matthew Skoff, who relieved McAdam after Michigan scored its fifth goal. McAdam finished the night with 25 saves, Skoff with 26.
“Penn State is a team that we’ve struggled with over the years and this year we’ve absolutely dominated them, which is a good feeling,” said Nieves. “To finish it off at the end of the regular season is definitely a huge confidence booster. Everybody played well, everybody pitched in, so everybody should be feeling pretty good.”
The Wolverines beat the Nittany Lions by a score of 7-1 Friday night, a win that halted a three-game losing streak for Michigan, their longest of the year. Berenson said that the way in which the Wolverines swept was “important” heading into next week’s conference championship tournament.
“Sometimes it’s hard to manufacture momentum if you really haven’t earned it,” said Berenson. “I think this game has earned it. We can talk about last week and how we took a big step backwards; I thought this week we took a big step forwards.”
Michigan will (22-7-5, 12-5-3-2 B1G) sit out the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten tournament in St. Paul, Minn., next weekend. With its third-place finish, Penn State (20-14-4, 10-9-1-1) faces Wisconsin in quarterfinal action Thursday night.