Penn State hockey might have just sealed its first trip to the NCAA Tournament with an epic 4-3 victory against Minnesota in double overtime.
The Nittany Lions knocked off the top-seeded Golden Gophers in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament Friday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Junior defenseman Erik Autio had possibly the biggest goal in program history, one-timing a pass from freshman phenom Denis Smirnov at 13:33 of the second overtime.
Autio wins it in double OT for Penn State pic.twitter.com/wc4Og3dl0N
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) March 18, 2017
It advances Penn State to the championship game Saturday against Wisconsin, which beat Ohio State 2-1 in the other semifinal. The Nittany Lions will play the Badgers at The Joe on Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET. The game will be on the Big Ten Network.
More importantly, Penn State is probably secure in the NCAA Tournament, which would be the first trip in its brief history. The Nittany Lions are 11th in the PairWise rankings before the victory against then-No. 4 Minnesota.
Sixteen teams make the tournament, and the PairWise rankings have a huge influence on who makes it after the automatic bids are awarded. Penn State could just go ahead and end any doubt by beating Wisconsin and earning the Big Ten’s automatic bid with a conference title.
Beating the Gophers, who had defeated the Nittany Lions four times in four tries this season, is probably enough to lock up a spot. There are six auto bids, so anyone in the top 10 of the PairWise rankings is essentially guaranteed a spot. For every top 10 team that wins an automatic bid, another spot down the rankings is basically guaranteed.
The NCAA Tournament selection show is Sunday at noon ET on ESPNU.