Men's Hockey: Wisconsin chases Big Ten title with sweep over Penn State

One year ago, the Penn State Nittany Lions dug themselves out of a 2-0 hole to beat the Badgers 3-2 in overtime, effectively spoiling UW's at-large postseason bid. With the Big Ten title on the line and the tournament just weeks away, Wisconsin was not about to let history repeat itself this weekend.

For the second time this season, Wisconsin (12-5-1 Big Ten, 21-9-2 overall) swept Penn State (2-15-1, 6-24-2) behind incredible showings from forwards Mark Zengerle and Nic Kerdiles, who each had six points on the weekend.

Friday night the Badgers controlled the pace through the entirety of the first period, and senior forward Michael Mersch gave the Badgers a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal assisted from Zengerle and Kerdiles, their first points of the night.

“I thought the first period tonight was as tight and solid as we’ve played in a long time,” head coach Mike Eaves said Friday. “I think coming out of practice sometimes after a bye week you work on good habits, and I thought we executed really well.”

Ten minutes after Mersch’s goal, senior forward Tyler Barnes notched his 11th goal of the season and gave the Badgers the 2-0 advantage on assists from—you guessed it—Zengerle and Kerdiles. The top line combined for three goals and six assists in Friday’s game.

The Badgers’ penalty-killing unit remained excellent through PSU’s first two power plays, bringing them to 30 successful kills on the road.

At just over 10 minutes into the second period the Badgers had the extra attacker for a delayed penalty, and Kerdiles found the back of the net for his 12th goal of the season. Assists were credited to Zengerle and redshirt junior defenseman Chase Drake.

Wisconsin’s prowess seemed to fade in the third period, and it almost looked as if the Nittany Lions were poised for another comeback as they quickly closed the 3-0 deficit to 3-2 on goals from sophomore forward Casey Bailey and redshirt junior forward Taylor Holstrom.

Penn State would try for the equalizer and pull its goaltender in the final minutes of the third period, but Zengerle sank the empty-net goal to seal the first victory of the weekend for the Badgers, 4-2.

Saturday night it was Wisconsin once again who opened the scoring, this time from redshirt senior forward Keegan Meuer, who recorded his third goal of the season. Sophomore defenseman Eddie Wittchow was credited with the assist.

However, the evening’s script would play out differently than it had the night before. The Nittany Lions made it 1-1 just over a minute later on a power-play goal from Bailey.

Late in the second period it was Kerdiles who would put Wisconsin ahead again, this time on a feed from Zengerle. The Irvine, Calif., native scored a short-handed goal with just over two minutes remaining, giving him his 13th goal of the season and Zengerle his 27th assist.

The Badgers were able to hold on to their lead for most of the third period but unfortunately for them, Penn State wasn't ready to let go.

With under three minutes remaining PSU sophomore forward Kenny Brooks tied the game at 2-2, sending the two teams into overtime.

In a back-and-forth overtime period it seemed as though the Big Ten rivals would head into a shootout to decide the winner. But with just 20.3 seconds remaining, senior defenseman Joe Faust sent a long pass to Zengerle, who then gave it to Kerdiles. Kerdiles fed it back to Zengerle, and this time it was Wisconsin with the 3-2 overtime victory.

The Badgers are now just five points behind Minnesota in the Big Ten. They play their final road game at Michigan State next weekend before heading to St. Paul, Minn., for the Big Ten tournament.

UWBadgers.com contributed to this report.

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