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NCAA Hockey Tournament: DU Pioneers dominate Penn State, advance to Midwest Regional Final

DU will face Ohio State Sunday with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line

2017 NCAA Div I Men's Ice Hockey Championships Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

For the second straight season, the #2 Denver Pioneers made short work of #3 Penn State in the NCAA Tournament, eliminating the Nittany Lions with a 5-1 win in the Midwest Regional Semifinal Saturday night in Allentown, PA. The win is Denver’s fifth straight in the postseason and came in dominant fashion akin to the 4-1 win over St. Cloud State in last weekend’s Frozen Faceoff final, giving indications that DU may well be getting hot at the right time once again.

Denver quickly silenced a heavily pro-Penn State crowd at the PPL Center, outplaying the overmatched Nittany Lions from the jump.

After half a period of back-and-forth play, Denver found a crease in Penn State’s defense and took advantage. Liam Finlay won a race to the puck after a dump-in by freshman defenseman Ian Mitchell and snuck a blind backhand pass into the slot, where a trailing Kohen Olischefski finished the play.

It was just Olischefski’s seventh goal of the season, but the freshman has come on very strong for the Pioneers in the postseason after a two-point performance in the Frozen Faceoff final.

Penn State continued to have major trouble in their defensive zone as DU enjoyed long stretches with puck possession and ample chances on PSU goaltender Peyton Jones. With a delayed penalty to be called around the 16 minute mark, Denver was able to set up their 6-on-5 offense with Tanner Jaillet pulled. Showing patience behind the net, Dylan Gambrell side-stepped a Penn State defender and found Troy Terry in the slot. Terry finished off the chance, beating Jones far side for his 14th goal of the year.

Terry’s goal gave DU a 2-0 lead going into the first intermission, along with a 17-9 advantage in shots on net.

As the second period got underway, it quickly became clear that Penn State didn’t have any adjustments in hand. After killing off a minor penalty in the first two minutes, Denver’s top line went back on the attack. Rushing toward the Penn State net, Terry fed a pass through a PSU defender and found Henrik Borgström, who snapped a shot past Jones’ glove to blow the game wide open 4:51 into the period. The goal, Borgström’s 23rd of the season, also brought him to 51 points on the season.

Penn State, despite leading the nation in shots on net with over 40 per game on average, appeared completely deflated and could not put together any offensive pressure, often having to ice the puck several times within minutes. To make matters worse, Jones surrendered his fourth goal with just two seconds left in the period after Chase Berger took a minor penalty with only 12 seconds to go.

Mitchell rifled a one-timer slap shot from the point, which was re-directed in front by Jarid Lukosevicius past Jones. It was the third assist of the game for Mitchell, bringing the freshman to 27 on the season. The goal was also Lukosevicuis’ 11th on the power play this season, a team-high.

Penn State got on the board early in the third period. The Nittany Lions’ first shot of the period didn’t come until the 6:43 mark, which set off a scuffle in front of Jaillet as PSU players dug for the rebound. Matching roughing penalties sent play to 4-on-4, where Penn State converted a defensive zone turnover into a soft goal that snuck through Jaillet.

The goal put some more urgency into Penn State’s play, but Denver scored the dagger courtesy of Lukosevicius at the 12:22 mark to bring the lead back to four.

The final buzzer sounded with Penn State having taken 27 shots to Denver’s 42.

The win sets up a showdown with top-seed Ohio State Sunday evening in the Regional Final for the Pioneers, with the winner advancing to April’s Frozen Four in St. Paul. The Buckeyes opened up a 4-0 lead on #4 Princeton in the first semifinal Saturday, holding on for a 4-2 win. The game is a 6:30 PM ET start and can be seen on ESPNU.