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Comebacks, shootouts highlight Frozen Four action

4/6/2007

ST. LOUIS -- Welcome to the show.

The 2007 Frozen Four was a sight to behold Thursday afternoon and evening. Playing to nearly 19,000 fans in the Show-Me State, college hockey did that and more as Michigan State and Boston College survived their semifinal tests and will now meet Saturday night (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) to decide the national championship.

How they got there were two very different stories.

Ladies and gentlemen please
Would you bring your attention to me?
For a feast for your eyes to see
An explosion of catastrophe

The afternoon couldn't have started much worse for Michigan State.

Before many fans had found their seats for the matinee at the Scottrade Center, Maine had jumped out to a lead on the first shot of the game.

Josh Soares fired a pass from behind the net and found a wide open Keith Johnson in the slot. He one-timed a shot that beat Michigan State goalie Jeff Lerg to the stick side just 23 seconds in.

The carnage continued three minutes later as Soares wristed a blocked shot over Lerg's right shoulder for a 2-0 Black Bears lead.

Four shots. Two goals. Zero panic.

"Everybody just looked around and said, 'Wow, what just happened?'" defenseman Chris Snavely said. "It was an eye-opener, but the guys came back and battled hard.

"This just shows the character of this team."

The Spartans (25-13-3) recovered from their horrible start to score four unanswered goals and post a 4-2 win to advance to their first national title game since 1987.

Make no mistake, the first game was entertaining.

But it was the opening act to a headliner that stole the show.

Like nothing you've ever seen before
Watch closely as I open this door
Your jaws will be on the floor
After this you'll be begging for more

Boston College and North Dakota aren't exactly strangers.

Thursday night marked the sixth time in the last nine years that the Eagles and Fighting Sioux have met in the NCAA Tournament -- including four times in the Frozen Four.

"That's what builds rivalries," BC head coach Jerry York said. "It's hard to have rivalries outside your league, but when you play as many times as we have … and we've had some classic games."


There was the 2000 national championship, won 4-2 by North Dakota -- its last national title.

There was the rematch national title game the next year that the Eagles won 3-2 in overtime -- the Eagles' last championship.

And there was last year's 6-5 barnburner in the national semis that sent BC to the final game.

"I have a lot of respect for that team," BC captain Brian Boyle said. "There was no trash talking going on because I think both teams have a lot of respect for each other. Both teams just want to win.

"You go into those games and you know it's going to be a lot of fun and a privilege to play in."

Sorry Brian, but you're wrong. The privilege was all ours.

Ladies and gentlemen good evening
You've seen that seeing is believing
Your ears and your eyes will be bleeding
Please check to see if you're still breathing

For 40 minutes BC and UND traded shots -- 53 of them to be exact.

And they traded goals too.

The Sioux scored first when captain Chris Porter beat Cory Schneider just six seconds after the Eagles had killed off a 5-on-3 advantage. BC tied it a 1-1 on a power-play goal by Dan Bertram.

In the second, North Dakota retook the lead on a Jonathan Toews power-play goal, but Bertram would answer again with man-advantage to register his first two-goal game since Oct. 29, 2004 against (who else?) North Dakota.

So it came down to 20 minutes of hockey.

As the clock continued to wind down, it looked like overtime was on the horizon.

Then BC freshman Ben Smith, who took over as the first-line center when Boyle was moved back to defense, gave the Eagles a 3-2 lead at the 13:00 mark.

Game over, right?

Hadn't even started.

Hold tight cause the show is not over
If you will please move in closer
Your about to be bowled over
By the wonders you're about to behold here

In the first 55 minutes, there were five goals.

In the final five, there were five more.

There was a shorthanded goal by T.J Oshie for a 3-3 tie at 15:22. Then a garden variety power-play goal by Nathan Gerbe to put BC up 4-3 just 32 seconds later.

Next came Joe Rooney's shorthanded empty-netter to give the Eagles a 5-3 edge with 50 seconds left. North Dakota kept it very interesting when Porter scored his second of the night on the power play with a sixth attacker and the clock showing 16.4 seconds left.

And then Gerbe intercepted a pass at the Sioux blue line and buried his second of the night for the final margin at 19:54.

If you're keeping score, that was three by Boston College and two by North Dakota for a 6-4 Hockey East win that officially ended the five-year reign of WCHA national titles.

"We just didn't do it enough tonight," Oshie said. "We were kind of going back and forth and it was hard to get going when you are on your toes one second and on your heels another."

Welcome to the show
Please come inside
Ladies and gentlemen
-- "Ladies and Gentlemen" by Saliva

"I thought North Dakota was the best team we've played all year," York said. "They pushed us right to the limit. And I like the way they play -- they're not trying to avoid losing, they're trying to win games.

"When you get two teams with that philosophy, I think the game's a terrific game to watch. We're extremely fortunate and very proud that we're moving on to the championship game."

So the Eagles (29-11-1) will take their 13-game winning streak into the national championship game against a Michigan State team looking for its first title since 1986. The Frozen Four finale has a lot to live up in terms of the expectations created here on Thursday night.

See you Saturday night. I can hardly wait for the show.

David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at david.albright@espn3.com.