by Kate Crandall
The silence was deafening in Colorado College's locker room, where the players sat in their stalls, stewing in their sweat-soaked pads and staring into space.
The stars seemed aligned for the Tigers, who won the regular-season Western Collegiate Hockey Association title and were hosts of this weekend's NCAA Tournament West Regional at World Arena, just two wins from the Frozen Four in Denver.
Instead, the dance will rage on in their backyard without them.
Michigan State scored three second-period goals Friday and goal-tender Jeff Lerg made 41 saves to earn a 3-1 win at World Arena.
Spartans center Justin Abdelkader, the 2007 Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player for the defending national champions, had two assists.
"It's tough," left wing Scott McCulloch said in a hushed voice. "You don't think you're going to lose at home."
The third-seeded Spartans advanced to tonight's NCAA West Regional final at World Arena against No. 4 seed Notre Dame, a rematch of last year's Midwest Regional final.
"They went to their strength, and we went to our strength," Spartans coach Rick Comley said. "Defense won over offense."
CC, which also made a first-round tournament exit in 2006, ended with three straight losses - matching its longest skid of the season - and finished 18-3 at World Arena and 28-12-1 overall. With its sixth consecutive NCAA win, Michigan State, which was also a No. 3 seed last season, improved to 25-11-5.
In a scoreless first period, CC mounted a 12-2 shot advantage on mostly outside shots.
Coming off its worst penalty-kill performance of the season against North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five consolation game, the Tigers allowed two power-play goals in the second period - only the second time CC has allowed multiple power-play goals in successive games.
First, the Spartans' Chris Mueller tangled with defenseman Jack Hillen, screening goal-tender Richard Bachman long enough for Michigan State's leading scorer, Tim Kennedy, to sweep in for a backhanded goal.
Then, with less than 2 minutes left in the second, Michigan State defenseman Jeff Dunne beat Bachman with a shot from the right circle.
Mueller capped the 10-minute, 24-second blitz with a one-timer off a faceoff with 7 seconds left.
"They got the third one at the top of the jar, which shouldn't have even happened," center Chad Rau said. "We were kind of scrambling. We didn't have the right amount of guys on the ice."
Left wing Derek Patrosso snapped the Tigers' 75:31 scoreless streak with 8 minutes left, beating Lerg stick side off a faceoff and giving the crowd of 6,287 mostly CC fans something to rally behind. But the Tigers ran out of time.
"The season has gone so fast," Bachman said. "You can't even think about it."