Saturday, January 25, 2014

Penn State hangs in again, can't get over hump against Boston College

State College, PA -- After braving a two-game home set with Big Ten rival Minnesota -- the No. 1 school in the country -- two weeks ago, the Penn State Nittany Lions faced another stiff test on Saturday night at Pegula Arena with second-ranked Boston College.

They passed in the sense of claiming another moral victory, but the actual victory still went to the visiting Eagles, in a 3-2 contest that was just as tight as the final score suggests.

Johnny Gaudreau picked up a goal and two assists to extend his national-best scoring streak to 20 games, Kevin Hayes scored twice and Bill Arnold added three helpers for BC, which extended its unbeaten string to 11 games (10-0-1).

The Three Amigos which make up the top line can't carry the club forever, a fact which does concern Eagles head coach Jerry York as the season will wear on and opposing defenses clamp down on them.

"Clearly we need that balanced scoring. We were moving towards that for a while, but I think as we go down the stretch, we're going to need those goals more," York admitted. "We'll have to get them from our defensemen. We also have four freshman forwards who I think are just getting into the swing of things."

Freshman Thatcher Demko made his third straight start and remained strong despite some heavy pressure late, making 33 saves. That helped the Eagles improve to 13-0-1 when scoring first and 5-1 in one-goal contests.

The host Nits have dropped 12 of their last 13 games, but did much to erase the memory of an 8-2 thrashing at the hands of Hockey East's finest on December 28 in the finale of the Three Rivers Classic. 

Eric Scheid and Taylor Holstrom lit the lamp, while Eamon McAdam manned the net again and played well in the setback, stopping 27 pucks. The freshman from suburban Philadelphia is still seeking his first win of the season, having dropped to 0-8-0.

"Three of the last five games we've played have been against either the number one or number two teams in the nation. I'd like to get a point out of it, but I'm not worried," said Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky. "You do get confidence when you play hard and when you play well. And this is good for the coaching staff, too. But it's also frustrating. Here we are, minutes after losing another one goal game."

The game began to get progressively more physical in its second half, but it nearly backfired on Penn State.

Jonathan Milley was sent off for a huge check at center ice, drawing a major with 4:06 played in the third period, and it appeared to be the death knell for the Nittany Lions. Hayes ripped one off the post and in only 22 seconds into the power play for a 3-1 edge, but on the next shift, Tommy Olczyk was dragged down from behind on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot. Demko was equal on a pedestrian forehander with 15:01 to play.

"Yeah. If I had to do it over again, I'd probably look for something different," Olczyk said when asked if he planned to go stick side on his shot. 

Holstrom later broke in 2-on-1, then flipped a shot that deflected off Demko's shoulder and in at the 6:58 mark, with more than two minutes left on the five-minute disadvantage. 

McAdam had to be elastic to stop back-to-back chances from Gaudreau and Hayes as the clock ticked down to 3 1/2 minutes remaining, but his teammates couldn't find an equalizer.

"It was a marked improvement from the team we saw over Christmas. They were more cohesive as a team, played more physically. They're right in the mix against some quality teams, York said in praise of his opponent.

Despite being held without a shot for the first seven-plus minutes of action, BC picked up the game's first goal with its second shot of a single sequence. Arnold took on a State defender, stickhandling around him up the middle. His initial shot was stopped by McAdam, but Hayes followed up and popped the rebound over his shoulder and just across the goal line before being swept out at 7:40.

Penn State tried to use sluggish ice and a strong defensive front to counter BC's swift transition game, but that strategy started to fail just around the time the hosts tied the score.

Taking a page out of Arnold's book, Kenny Brooks made a rush up the right wing and cut in on goal. His first shot was turned aside, but Mike Williamson put it back into the crease where Scheid's second dig at the loose puck finally slid under Demko at the 6:45 mark. A brief review confirmed that the disc was not covered by BC's netminder when pried loose.

Gaudreau would not be denied, however. During a 4-on-4 situation, he worked a crossing pattern inside the Nittany Lions zone with Arnold, then moved to the right side and deked McAdam before sliding a backhander home with 3:56 to play in the second.

Notes:  Penn State forward David Glen did not play in the contest, after revealing that he will undergo a bone marrow procedure to donate to affected persons in the region. He is expected to miss at least next weekend's set of games against Ohio State ... Gaudreau now has 43 points (20G, 23A) during his record-setting string of consecutive games with at least one point ... Play was halted briefly with 51.2 seconds remaining when Demko was run into by a Penn State forward. The 18-year-old netminder was looked after by team trainers but allowed to return apparently unscathed ... Boston College looks to keep its run of success intact when it travels to Providence next Friday ... Attendance was 6,214.
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