Michigan State tops Maine to reach Frozen Four final
ST. LOUIS -- Just like the last time Michigan State played Maine, the Spartans found themselves in an early hole.
It was a mere speed bump for a school that advanced to the Frozen Four championship game for the first time in 20 years.
Nick Sucharski scored the go-ahead goal off a rebound early in the third period and Jeff Lerg made 29 saves, helping Michigan State rally from the early two-goal deficit to beat Maine 4-2 on Thursday in the semifinals.
"For a second, I flashed back to last year," Lerg said. "After that, I settled down. I thought, 'They can win the first 5 minutes of the game as long as we win the last 55 minutes.' "
The Spartans actually were a bit amused by the adversity.
"You could have caught most of the guys laughing," said forward Justin Abdelkader, who assisted on the tying goal in the second period. "Everyone turned to each other like, 'Is this really happening?'
"The big thing is all the experience from last year, and all the guys realized we could come back."
Jim McKenzie also scored off a rebound midway through the third and Chris Mueller had a goal and an assist for Michigan State (25-13-3), last in the championship game in 1987 and without a title since 1986.
Even if the route to the final didn't follow the game plan.
"Two weeks of preparation out the window in 15 seconds," coach Rick Comley said. "It was a just a great job by these kids. All year long they've been very resilient."
The Spartans, a No. 3 seed who surged after losing four of five to end February, will play Boston College in the final Saturday. BC beat North Dakota 6-4 in the second semifinal.
Michigan State was motivated by a 5-4 loss to Maine in the 2006 East Regional final, also the last meeting between the teams. The Black Bears scored on two of their first four shots for a 2-0 lead at 3:24 of the first period, similar to their 3-0 first-period lead in the East Regional.
"It was the start that you want," said Josh Soares, who set up the first goal and scored the second. "I thought maybe we got too emotional.
"Maybe it was too good of a start and we tightened up a bit."
The 5-foot-6 Lerg, more than a foot shorter than Maine's 6-7 Ben Bishop, shut the door the rest of the way.
"What he lacks in size he makes up for in skill," Maine defenseman Travis Ramsey said. "He shows you a lot of the net, but he's fast enough to take it away in a hurry."
Michigan State scored three of its goals on rebounds given up by Bishop, a third-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues in 2005 playing in his hometown. Bishop allowed only one goal in two games to help his team make it to the Frozen Four for the fourth time in six years.
"Bish played a great game," coach Tim Whitehead said. "He made some big saves. It wasn't his fault we lost this game."
Keith Johnson also had a goal and an assist for Maine (23-15-2), also a No. 3 seed.
Sucharski, a fifth-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2006, scored his ninth goal to break a 2-all tie at 5:11 of the third. The puck sat outside the crease for a few seconds while players from both teams took stabs at it before Sucharski succeeded.
McKenzie's 12th goal made it 4-2 at 9:46. Mueller collected the rebound of his shot and passed it to McKenzie for an easy tip-in.
Soares' backhand setup from behind the net gave Johnson an easy shot in front for his 10th goal at the 23-second mark. Soares got the puck alone in the slot on the rebound of a shot blocked by defenseman Tyler Howells to make it 2-0 at 3:24.
Michigan State cut the gap to one at 7:25 when Mueller tapped in a rebound off Bishop's stick. Defenseman Chris Snavely joined a 3-on-2 break and scored from the right circle to tie it at 16:32 of the second.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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