By JOHN KEKIS, The Associated Press
The Black Bears are going back to the Frozen Four.
John Hopson scored twice, Derek Damon had a goal and an assist, and Greg Moore's empty-netter in the final minute proved the game-winner as Maine beat Michigan State, 5-4, on Sunday in the East Regional final.
Maine (28-11-2), which earned an at-large bid after losing to Boston College in the semifinals of the Hockey East tournament, has been to nine Frozen Fours and won titles in 1993 and 1999. The Black Bears will play the winner of the Midwest Regional final between Wisconsin (27-10-3) and Cornell (22-8-4), played later Sunday in Green Bay, Wis.
It was the fifth time the teams had met in the tournament, and the Spartans were 4-0.
Freshman goalie Jeff Lerg was the hero in Michigan State's 1-0 opening-round victory over New Hampshire, making 36 stops. He entered Sunday's game with a 1.51 goals-against average and .948 save percentage, but the Black Bears scored three times in the first period and the Spartans were unable to rally all the way back.
Maine began the game just as it did in beating Harvard 6-1 in Saturday's first-round game. The Black Bears repeatedly pinned the Spartans in their own zone and took a 1-0 lead off a faceoff in the Michigan State zone.
Damon, fresh from a one-game suspension for violating the athletic department's student code of conduct, won the draw back to Matt Duffy, and his shot through a screen sailed past Lerg, who never saw it, at 3:13. It was just the third goal of the year for the freshman defenseman.
The Black Bears made it 2-0 midway through the period. Seconds after being stopped by Lerg, Hopson gained control of the puck along the left-wing boards and flipped a shot that deflected off a player in front and through Lerg's pads at 10:21.
At that point, Maine was outshooting Michigan State 12-3, and the Black Bears struck again just over six minutes later on a power play. Hopson scored on a deflection with only one second left in the extra man-advantage.
Michigan State finally began to exert some pressure on Maine goalie Ben Bishop in the closing minutes of the period and gained a 4-on-3 skating advantage with 1:07 left. With more open ice, the Spartans broke through when Tim Crowder split the defense and flipped a backhander just inside the left post with 44 seconds left in the period. It was his 16th goal of the season and second of the tournament.
But just when the Spartans were gaining momentum, Maine capitalized on a penalty to Michigan State's Tim Kennedy early in the second period. On the ensuing power play, Josh Soares whipped a cross-ice pass to Damon, who was standing just to the right of the cage, and he one-timed it past Lerg at 3:35 to put Maine up 4-1.
Undaunted, the Spartans came right back. Crowder scored from in front at 8:00 on another power play after David Booth made a great play at the left point to keep the puck in the zone.
After scoring two straight power-play goals against the best penalty-killing team in the nation -- Maine killed 89.7 percent of its penalties during the season -- the Spartans continued to press the attack.
The pressure paid off again in a startling way. The Spartans' Jim McKenzie (pictured) carried the puck deep along the right-wing boards on a rush, and just as he neared the goal line he flipped a high, rising shot toward the net that somehow sailed over the 6-foot-7 Bishop's left shoulder with a minute left in the period to make it 4-3.
Michigan State nearly tied it late in the third. Colton Fretter circled the net and his wraparound backhander hit the crossbar and caromed straight down into the crease. Bishop managed to cover the puck with 4:48 left before Drew Miller could get his stick on it.
Michigan State pulled Lerg for an extra skater with 79 seconds remaining, but Moore scored an empty-net goal with 36 seconds left to make it 5-3.
That proved huge when Miller scored unassisted off a goalmouth scramble with five seconds left, and it kept Maine's amazing record intact. The Black Bears are now unbeaten in the last 108 games in which they've entered the third period with a lead (102 wins and six ties).
The anticipated goaltending duel between the 5-6 Lerg and Bishop never materialized. Lerg finished with 29 saves and Bishop had 33.