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SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame returned to the comforts of the Big Ten Hockey Conference Friday night but couldn’t find an answer to its recent woes against league-leading Penn State.

Jeff Jackson’s Irish twice had leads on the high-scoring Nittany Lions but couldn’t either and No. 7 Penn State rallied for two goals midway through the third period for a 4-2 victory before 3,806 watching at the Lefty Smith Rink in the Compton Family Ice Arena.

Defenseman Paul DeNaples scored the tying goal at 8:20 for Penn State and then Evan Barratt scored the game-winner at 10:15 on a power play for Gus Gadowsky’s Nittany Lions, who improved to 13-5-0 overall and 8-3-0-0 in the Big Ten for 24 points, nine ahead of the Irish (8-7-2, 4-3-2-1 Big Ten) who lost for the sixth straight time and are winless in seven games. The teams conclude their series tonight at 6 p.m.

Despite their recent woes – just 15 goals in a 1-7-1 stretch since Nov. 15 – the Irish, who have surrendered 35 goals, gave the Nittany Lions all they could handle. Notre Dame outshot Penn State 42-40.

Cam Morrison and Alex Steeves had the goals for Notre Dame and goalie Cale Morris, who has struggled of late, finished with 36 saves. Denis Smirnov, in the second period, and Aarne Talvitie at 18:35 of the third into an empty net, scored the other goal for Penn State, which got 40 saves from Peyton Jones.

Penn State, which entered the game leading the nation in goals per game at 4.29, shots per game with 3 and second with a 31.3 power-play percentage, had chances to show off its stuff in the first period.

The Nittany Lions outshot the Irish 15-13 in the first period, but Notre Dame ended up ahead 1-0 after Penn State defenseman Kris Myllari inadvertently directed the puck past Jones at 10:12 during a scramble in front of the net. Morrison, who scored the game-winner the last time the teams met in last March’s Big Ten Tournament won by the Irish 3-2, got credited with the goal, his fourth of the season, with assists to Nick Leivermann and Matt Hellickson.

The goal came after the period’s only penalty, a face-off violation call against Notre Dame’s Cam Burke at 5:43. Morris made six saves during the two minutes and the pipe made another on Sam Sternschein.

The Irish got a power-play opportunity at 2:50 when Penn State’s Kevin Wall was whistled for checking from behind. Jones made three saves to keep the deficit at one. The teams then each killed off a penalty as the period progressed.

But the Nittany Lions got even at 9:59 when Smirnov got behind the Irish defense after passes from Brandon Biro and Nate Sucese. The senior left wing from Moscow deked Morris down and lifted a backhander into the net for his seventh goal of the season.

Cal Burke whistled a nice shot at Jones from inside the faceoff circle after a nice setup by Graham Slaggert at 17:45. Jones made the save, but in the resulting scramble, O’Leary was whistled for a cross check, giving the Nittany Lions their third power-play of the game.

Once again, Morris was up to the task, making four saves before O’Leary returned to the ice and then one on Smirnov just before the buzzer ended the second period. He finished with 12 saves and had 27 after 40 minutes, three more than Jones.

The Irish took a 2-1 lead at 4:45 of the third period when Steeves wristed home a shot from 15 feet out with Jones trying to fight his way back into the net after he was knocked out of it by his own player. Graham, who started the play, and Hellickson, who made the pass to Steeves, got assists.

But the Nittany Lions tied it at 8:20 when DeNaples beat Morris from inside the right faceoff circle after a pass from fellow defenseman Colt Hults, and to add insult to the goal, Notre Dame’s Graham went off for high sticking.

PENN STATE 4, NOTRE DAME 2

At Lefty Smith Rink, South Bend

Penn State 0 1 3—4

Notre Dame 1 0 1—2

First Period—Scoring: 1. Notre Dame, Cam Morrison 4 (Nick Leivermann, Matt Hellickson) EV 10:12. Penalties: Penn State 0-0, Notre Dame 1-2.

Second Period—Scoring: 2. Penn State, Denis Smirnov 7 (Brandon Biro, Nate Sucese) EV 9:59. Penalties (total): Penn State 2-4 (2-4), Notre Dame 2-4 (3-6).

Third Period—Scoring: 3. Notre Dame, Alex Steeves 3 (Matt Hellickson, Michael Graham) EV 4:45; 4. Penn State, Paul DeNaples 2 (Cole Hults, Brandon Biro) EV 8:20; 5. Penn State, Evan Barratt 8 (Aarne Talvitie, Liam Folkes) PP 10:15; 6. Penn State, Aarne Talvitie 5 (Cole Hults, Nikita Pavlychev) EN Penalties (total): Penn State 1-2 (3-6), Notre Dame 1-2 (4-8).

Power-play opportunities—Penn State 1 of 4, Notre Dame 0 of 3.

Faceoffs won—Penn State 28 (11-10-7): Notre Dame 36 (9-11-16).

Blocked shots—Penn State 23 (8-10-5); Notre Dame 24 (9-6-9).

Shots on goal—Penn State 40 (15-13-12); Notre Dame 42 (13-12-17).

Goalie saves—Penn State, Peyton Jones 24 (12-12-16); Notre Dame, Cale Morris 36 (15-12-9).

Records—Penn State 13-5-0 (8-3-0-0 Big Ten); Notre Dame 8-7-2 (4-3-2-1 Big Ten).

A—3,806 (5,022).