March 10, 2007
East Lansing, Mich. - Michigan State will advance to the CCHA Championship weekend at Joe Louis Arena for the 25th time in 26 seasons, completing a two-game sweep of Nebraska-Omaha. The Spartans advance with a 4-1 win on Saturday evening in the best-of-three quarterfinal round, getting a goal and an assist from Tim Crowder, Chris Mueller, and Jim McKenzie in the victory, but more importantly will make their 17th consecutive appearance in the CCHA's showcase weekend.
"I thought we played really well in the first period, probably as good as we have played in a month," admitted head coach Rick Comley after the victory. "We got a little sloppy there in the second; we lost it a bit and took some penalties, but we got it back with a solid, sound third period. We wanted to play well to get to Detroit - this team has had to work so hard to do that."
While Michigan State struggled to get pucks on net in the first period on Friday, the opposite was true on Saturday, as the Spartans had several good chances in the opening half of the first period. The most sustained pressure and quality scoring chances came from the all-sophomore line of Tim Kennedy, Justin Abdelkader, and Crowder, who had half of the team's nine shots on goal in the opening 10 minutes.
It was that line which gave the Spartans the lead at 15:06. Abdelkader had the puck at the left half-wall, but was tied up with a defender. He was able to move the puck to Tim Crowder at the top of the left circle; the winger circled back into the slot and wristed a shot that eluded netminder Jerramie Dupont low glove-side.
The home team doubled their lead less than two minutes later while skating on the power play. Head coach Rick Comley threw his five top forwards - the all-sophomore line, Bryan Lerg, and Jim McKenzie - out on the man advantage, which paid dividends with a goal at 16:46. Abdelkader kept the puck in at the right point, and threw it to the far side of the blue line to Crowder. Crowder threw the puck netward for McKenzie in front, but the winger was heavily defended on the doorstep. A crafty and opportunistic Kennedy collected the puck on the right side, moved right-to-left through the low slot, then roofed the puck over the blocker hand of Dupont for his 14th goal of the season.
UNO cut into the lead on an unassisted tally by Alex Nikiforuk at 7:10. The senior drew a delayed penalty on the Spartans in his own defensive zone, then broke in alone through the neutral zone and in on MSU netminder Jeff Lerg, and beat the sophomore goalie with a nice move that saw the puck sail over his glove hand.
The Spartans pushed their lead back to two with another power play goal midway through the final frame. Chris Snavely got the puck to Tyler Howells at the left point, and his blast was saved by Dupont. Chris Mueller was there to collect the rebound, and he stuffed the puck five-hole for the MSU score.
The Mavericks were aggressive in an attempt to get back into the game, but Jeff Lerg was up to the task, turning away any UNO chances. McKenzie iced the game with an empty-netter with 2.1 seconds remaining.
Dupont had a quality outing in the pipes for the visiting Mavericks, finishing with 34 saves. Jeff Lerg made 20 saves for the Spartans.
The Spartans will face archrival Michigan in the CCHA semifinals next week, by virtue of Lake Superior State's upset of third-seeded Miami in Oxford this weekend. Lake Superior will face top-seeded Notre Dame in the other semifinal.
Notes: Michigan State is now 49-4 all-time in CCHA Tournament games on their home rink, and will play at Joe Louis Arena in the league's championship weekend for the 17th straight year ... The Spartans held UNO without a power play goal in five chances, and were 9-for-10 in the weekend series. The MSU penalty kill is clicking at an 86.4% success rate ... With a 2-for-3 effort on the power play, it was MSU's most efficient effort with a man up since going 3-for-5 against Harvard in the GLI semifinals ... Tim Crowder and Tim Kennedy both posted their 50th career points with their first period goals ... Michigan State had 26 shots on net by the 10-minute mark of the second period. They had 26 total in Friday night's game ... The Spartans are 10-0-0 when Chris Mueller scores a goal ... Jeff Lerg gave up a goal or less for the 10th time this season, and the Spartans are a perfect 10-0-0 in those games ... Senior captain Chris Lawrence skated in his 100th career game as a Spartan ... Tyler Howells played back on defense after 20 consecutive games up front on the wing. He last played defense in December ...