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Senior night and a buzzing crowd of 5,420 fans at Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing, Michigan, could have been an easy distraction for visiting Penn State on Saturday, Feb. 25.

It wasn’t. The 11th-ranked Nittany Lions skated with purpose to a 4-1 Big Ten road victory behind two goals from freshman forward Nate Sucese and a two-point night by sophomore defenseman Vince Pedrie.

“Tonight, I do think they came out with a purpose,” said Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky. “I think we had a really good start yesterday and I thought we had a really good start again tonight.”

Sucese broke the scoring open for the visitors with his 12th goal of the year at 11:18 on assists from senior forward David Goodwin and Pedrie. Sucese skated down to the stick side of Spartans netminder Ed Minney and slammed home a feed from Goodwin.

“I thought we played a not-very-smart game, ” said Spartans coach Tom Anastos. “I thought, mentally, our execution was poor [and] we made poor decisions all over the rink.”

Atoning for two cross-checking minors at 14:12 was freshman forward Denis Smirnov, who sliced a top shelf, power-play goal home on an assist from junior defenseman Erik Autio and Pedrie. Sucese wasn’t done, and snapped in his 13th on a feed from Brandon Biro on a two-on-one rush at 19:10, with a secondary assist coming from Kris Myllari.

“We needed it, ” said Gadowsky. “I think Michigan State took over the second period just like they did last night. This time, we had a bit of a cushion and we needed it.”

It seemed as if Penn State would pour it on in the second, outshooting the Spartans 11-8 and earning power plays on a boarding minor to Mason Appleton at 10:55 and a bench minor for too many men at 16:30, but the hosts were able to keep the Nittany Lions from furthering their lead.

“We came out, our first period was really good, but they took it to us in the second and needed a tremendous third,” said Gudowsky of Friday night’s win and the nicety of having a big lead to play with Saturday.

Senior winger Villiam Haag cut the Nittany Lions’ lead to 3-1 with a goal at 10:38 of the third on assists from Patrick Khodorenko and Rhett Holland. For the time being, it seemed like the Spartans might finally make a game of it.

With so little time remaining at this point, the Spartans began to press, and it showed.

“The more you’re pressed and the more you get away from what you should be doing, the worse it gets,” said Anastos.

Penn State answered resoundingly only 90 seconds later on Andrew Sturtz’s 19th goal of the season on a feed from Chase Berger. The tally was upheld on review and the scoring line would stay that way.

“We’ve been through enough nerve-wracking games lately,” Gadowsky said. “To get a bit of a lead today and then have Peyton play so well when we weren’t at our best felt pretty good.”

Penn State (20-8-2, 9-6-1-0 Big Ten) jumps Ohio State into third place with 28 points, good enough for striking distance of Wisconsin and Minnesota, tied in first with 33 points.

“We’re going to enjoy this one because it’s tough to come in here and get a win,” said Gadowsky. “We’ve got Wisconsin coming in and they have a ton to play for, so it’s going to be an emotional series.”

Michigan State (6-20-3, 2-11-2-0 Big Ten) will travel to Columbus, Ohio, for a series March 3 and 4 against the Buckeyes at the Schottenstein Center.

Big Ten roundup

Michigan 1, at No. 12 Ohio State 0
Zach Nagelvoort made 42 saves as visiting Michigan blanked No. 12 Ohio State on Saturday, Feb. 25, salvaging a split in the weekend series in Columbus, Ohio. Nick Pastujov scored his first of the year at 9:39 of the first on an assist from Niko Porikos, his second of the year, and was all the Wolverines ended up needing in the effort. Shots taken between the two teams were even at 11 apiece after the first, but the Buckeyes outshot the visitors 11-5 in the second and 20-7 in the third en route to a 42-23 shots on goal advantage. Next weekend, Michigan (10-17-3, 3-11-2-2 Big Ten) returns home to face No. 4 Minnesota and Ohio State (17-9-6, 8-7-1-1 Big Ten) will host Michigan State.

No. 4 Minnesota 3, No. 19 Wisconsin 2
Justin Kloos’ 17th goal of the year at 14:54 of the third period snapped a 2-2 tie and lifted the host Gophers to a 3-2 win over arch-rival Wisconsin at Mariucci Arena. Minnesota opened with a 2-0 lead on first period strikes by Rem Pitlick at 8:24 Ryan Norman at 19:55, but the Badgers responded with Luke Kunin’s 20th goal of the year at 5:18 of the second and Jake Linhart at 19:44. Pitlick then earned the primary assist on Kloos’ game-winner and finished the night plus-2. Eric Schierhorn took the win in net for the Gophers, making 29 saves. Minnesota (21-9-2, 12-4-0-0 Big Ten) travels to Michigan next weekend and Wisconsin (18-11-1, 11-5-0-0 Big Ten) will travel to face Penn State.