SATURDAY ROUNDUP: Penn State’s late rally lifts No. 11 Nittany Lions to 3-2 victory over No. 18 Minnesota, extends lead atop Big Ten hockey standings

Penn State's Kevin Wall (21) celebrates his game winning goal against Minnesota in the third period on Feb. 22, 2020. Penn State defeated Minnesota 3-2. Photo/Craig Houtz (CRAIG HOUTZ)
Penn State’s Kevin Wall celebrates his third-period goal that capped off a comeback from 2-0 down, giving the Nittany Lions a 3-2 win over Minnesota and a four-point lead first first in the Big Ten (Photo: Craig Houtz/Penn State Athletics)

Penn State and Minnesota may have entered the weekend deadlocked, but for the Nittany Lions, it was in the back of their heads that they needed to have success if they wanted to keep their hopes alive for the Big Ten regular-season crown.

See, Penn State is the odd man out in the final weekend of the Big Ten season, the only team that won’t play.

And while two regulation wins would have been the best outcome, Penn State settled for the next best: a 3-on-3 OT win on Friday followed by a dramatic come-from-behind victory on Saturday over Minnesota for a 3-2 victory. Penn State now holds a four-point lead over the Golden Gophers and Ohio State, which bested Michigan State, 3-2, on Saturday to complete the weekend sweep of the Spartans.

Things looked bleak early as Minnesota opened a 2-0 lead on first period goals by Sammy Walker and Jackson LaCombe. But Penn State cut the lead on Evan Barrett’s goal at 12:18 of the second.

That set up the dramatic third where Nikita Pavlychev and Kevin Wall struck 31 seconds apart before the midway point in the period. Peyton Jones finished the win stopped all 10 shots he faced in the period.

While Penn State sits idle next weekend, Minnesota hosts Michigan while Wisconsin travel to Ohio State and Notre Dame hosts Michigan State, all teams knowing almost anything could happen by weekend’s end.

Scoreboard  |  PairWise Rankings  |  Standings

Merrimack 3, No. 15 Providence 2

Merrimack has decided the final games of its regular season won’t prove useless.

The Warriors entered the weekend eliminated from the Hockey East playoffs, but played the role of spoilers, beating No. 15 Providence, 3-2, to complete the two-game weekend sweep and dampen the Friars chances to earn home ice in the Hockey East playoffs.

With just two regular-season games left, Providence is three points out of four place. Sitting tied for seventh with Northeastern, the Friars need to leapfrog a pack of four teams if they are going to remain home in the Hockey East quarterfinals.

Merrimack didn’t hold its first lead until 3:43 remaining in regulation when Liam Walsh scored the eventual game winner. Providence held leads of 1-0 and 2-1 but the pesky Warriors fought back each time.

Troy Kobryn followed up a shutout on Friday with 41 saves on Saturday for Merrimack including 22 in the third.

American International 2, Holy Cross 0

Tobias Fladeby and Elijiah Barriga each scored their third goal of the season in the final seven minutes of the third period as AIC skated past Holy Cross, 2-0.

The victory combined with Sacred Heart’s tie and shootout loss to Army West Point clinches the regular-season title for the Yellow Jackets for the second consecutive season.

On January 17, AIC trailed Sacred Heart by 11 points in the Atlantic Hockey standings. But 11 straight wins for the Yellow Jackets turned their season upside down in a very good way.

Saturday’s win was the 20th of the season for AIC, the second straight season reaching the 20-win plateau. With a week remaining in the regular season and playoffs, it is possible for AIC to improve upon last season’s 23 wins. It is also possible to surpass the program record for wins, 24, set in 1988-89.

St. Cloud State 2, No. 1 North Dakota 1

Jack Poehling’s goal with 14:06 remaining in the third broke a 1-1 tie as St. Cloud State upset a shorthanded North Dakota, 2-1, taking five-of-six NCHC points from the nation’s top team.

North Dakota was playing with its top scorer, Jorden Kawaguchi, who suffered a minor injury on Friday and is day-to-day. To add insult to injury, literally, the Fighting Hawks lost talented center Shane Pinto at 3:11 of the first when he was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for a check from behind.

Spencer Maier scored on the ensuing power play. But North Dakota had a response in the second on Collin Adams 11th goal of the year.

Leaving St. Cloud with just one-of-six points, North Dakota maintains a six-point lead for first over Minnesota Duluth, a 2-1 winner over Western Michigan on Saturday.

St. Lawrence 6, No. 20 Harvard 3

A night after one of Harvard’s biggest wins of the season, the Crimson responded with a loss in a critical game in hopes of earning a first-round bye and quarterfinal home ice in the ECAC playoffs.

St. Lawrence took a 4-0 lead with less than five minutes left in the second and then held off a third-period Harvard rally, salting away a 6-3 upset victory. It is just the second league win of the season for the last-place Saints.

Harvard’s remains in fourth place but its lead over fifth-place Rensselaer is just two points with one weekend of hockey remaining.