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Big Ten Hockey Championship Preview: Notre Dame Fighting Irish VS Penn State Nittany Lions

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With an autobid on the line, the Fighting Irish and Nittany Lions meet for another Big Ten banner.

Twitter @NDHockey / Mike Miller

After defeating the Minnesota Golden Gophers in controversial fashion last Saturday, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are headed to their second straight Big Ten championship game. Just like last year, they’ll host the championship game on their own ice, after a stunning upset for the Penn State Nittany Lions over the top-seeded Ohio State Buckeyes in last weekend’s other Big Ten semifinal.

WHERE, WHEN, AND HOW TO WATCH

Where: Compton Family Ice Arena, Notre Dame, IN
When: Saturday, Mar. 23, 8:00 PM ET
Watch: Big Ten Network

Saturday’s heavyweight contest will feature the two most recent Big Ten hockey conference champions. Last year, the Irish defeated the Buckeyes in the conference championship game, while two years ago, underdog the Nittany Lions defeated the Wisconsin Badgers for their first conference tournament title. While both teams rode the wave of momentum to victories in the NCAA Tournament in their respective conference championship season, neither has yet tasted the ultimate goal of a national championship.

As any Big Ten fan is well aware, the Nittany Lions have the most explosive offense in college hockey, making them a truly exciting team to watch. Their scoring is led by forwards Alex Limoges , Nate Sucese and Liam Folkes. All over eighteen goals or more, something only two other Big Ten skaters can say.

The Fighting Irish and Nittany Lions split both of their weekend series this season. Three of the four contests were decided by one goal games. However, the most lopsided victory of the season series went in favor of Penn State, in a 9-1 blowout in State College, PA prior to the semester break in December. The loss came at a time when the Irish were struggling; as they would go on to lose their next three conference games before weathering the storm and fighting their way to the second seed in the tournament.

The hero of their 2018 run to the national championship game, Cale Morris, has stepped up big for the Irish thus far in the 2019 postseason. After putting together a pair of shutouts against the Michigan State Spartans in the quarterfinals, Morris stopped 25 of the 26 shots he saw in the semifinal victory over the Gophers.

Morris may be hot right now, but the Nittany Lions have been a thorn in his side this season. His most recent loss came at the hands of Penn State on March 2, when he gave up 3 goals on 37 shots. The scary thing: That was his best performance against the squad from Hockey Valley this season. In the previously mentioned 9-1 Penn State victory on December 8, Morris had arguably the worst night of his career, giving up 5 goals on 20 shots before getting pulled. These types of struggles shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, considering Penn State’s offense found the back of the net 27 more times than the second highest scoring team in Division I this season.

Prediction

Penn State is a dangerous team. After advancing past Wisconsin thanks to an overtime goal, they stunned the conference regular season champions 5-1. However, the Irish have proved they play their best hockey on their home ice. Notre Dame has won all five Big Ten tournament games they’ve played in school history and I predict they’ll make it a sixth and punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.