This was their chance. It was a chance to take a big leap in the Big Ten standings and instill some much-needed confidence for a team that simply has not had it.
The Spartans went into Happy Valley, Pennsylvania looking to make a big statement and left with a lot of questions.
Friday night was the better of the two games by Michigan State, as the Spartans and Nittany Lions skated to a 2-2 tie at Pegula Ice Arena.
Jake Hildebrand was nothing short of sensational for Michigan State, stopping 48 shots, which tied a career high.
Two goals from unlikely sources gave the Spartans a 2-1 lead after the first 20 minutes. Ryan Keller got the Spartans on the board with his second goal of the season with less than four minutes left in the period before Eric Scheid tied the game for Penn State 2:50 later.
Villiam Haag waited 26 ticks before giving the Spartans the lead again. It was Haag’s third of the season and first since Nov. 20 at Ohio State.
The lead would hold until the 12:11 mark of the third period as David Goodwin notched his ninth of the season for Penn State.
That would be it for the scoring in regulation and overtime.
Brent Darnell would score the only goal in the shootout to give Michigan State an extra point in the standings.
Saturday night, however, the Spartans were derailed in a 5-2 rout.
Casey Bailey broke the ice for Penn State on a breakaway with his 15th goal of the season off of a disastrous turnover at the blueline by Michigan State freshman Carson Gatt.
Haag tied the game over three minutes later with his second goal of the weekend and captain Michael Ferrantino gave the Spartans the lead with another late first period goal.
Then the wheels fell off.
Two goals 2:11 apart by Nate Jensen and Goodwin gave Penn State the 3-2 lead in the latter half of the second period. It was the third time Michigan State blew a lead in this series.
The hole got deeper for Michigan State as Penn State scored a pair of goals in the to start the final period. Taylor Holstrom made it 4-2 with his fifth of the season and then Bailey put the nail in the coffin 59 seconds later with his team-leading 16th goal, tying him for second in the nation in goal scoring.
As stellar as Hildebrand was in the first game, he was very pedestrian in Saturday night’s defeat, stopping 35 of the 40 shots he faced.
On the weekend, the Spartan power play went 1-for-7 and the penalty kill was a perfect 8-for-8.
The Spartans are back in action Friday night at Munn Ice Arena to start their final series against Ohio State.
Brian Bobal is the co-host of Behind the Mask for Impact Sports
Photo: Brian Bobal/Impact Sports