The Hershey Bears, facing a must-win situation on Sunday evening at Giant Center, responded magnificently to the challenge when they shut out the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, 3-0.
The whitewash was the Penguins first game without scoring a goal since their contest with the Albany River Rats on March 21, 2008.
Bears’ goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, who politely declined to comment after the game, citing illness as the reason, let his actions do the talking during the game, stopping all 30 shots fired in his direction, including a pair of dandies in the middle portion of the second period from Nick Johnson and Bill Thomas.
After an initial early feeling-out sequence that featured plenty of action, but no finishing, Andrew Gordon gave the Bears a 1-0 lead at 11:35 of the opening period. Gordon, with his linemate, Chris Bourque, created congestion in the crease area, and patiently waited for Pens’ netminder, Adam Berkhoel, to commit before depositing a wrist shot behind him.
“The defenseman that was originally on me went down and forced Wilson, and Bourque was sort of tied up in front,” said Gordon, whose goal was his third of the playoffs. “I knew if I could get to that far post, Bourque had net side on him, so he was blocking him out a little bit. When I got the puck from Wilson, I just kept thinking, ‘I’ve got to get this up top’.”
Early in the second period, Darren Reid, used primarily in a defensive role by Woods in the regular season, eluded the grasp of former Bears’ defenseman, Deryk Engelland, then used a sweet backahand-to-forehand move to best Berkhoel at 22 seconds.
The line of Darren Reid, Andrew Joudrey, and Steve Pinizzotto played a pivotal role in getting the Bears off to a good start in each of the three periods. Hershey head coach, Bob Woods, who, thanks to getting the last line change due to being on home ice, expertly exercised his power to put specific personnel on the ice, explained that the matchup was exactly what he had intended.
“They were playing against the guys we had them scheduled to play against,” said Woods. “Whoever they started, we knew who we were starting, and that’s who it worked out with. Those three are probably good guys to start your period. They’re going to be energy, they’re going to get pucks deep, they’re going to cycle, they’re going to bang, and usually good things happen from that; it’s contagious.”
Referee, Frederic L’Ecuyer, who did not call any penalties in the first period, whistled the Pens’ Nick Johnson off the ice at 2:09, giving the Bears the first power play of the game. With Johnson in the “joint” doing his time, Alexandre Giroux beat Berkhoel with a wraparound power play goal at 3:11 to give the Bears a 3-0 lead.
“I didn’t think about the goalie or anything,” Giroux said. “I was going to stop at the blue line and wait for the guys because we were on the power play, and try to set up. I saw the defenseman (Engelland) step out on me, so I had a lot of speed and decided to keep going. I saw a little opening and I put it in.”
Giroux’s goal stood as the last goal of the game, with Gordon garnering his first career game-winning goal. The 23-year-old Gordon, who has quietly assumed an unofficial leadership role, was humbled when asked if he envisioned himself in that position.
“I’m sort of caught somewhere between a young guy and an older guy. I’m only a 2nd year pro, so guys like Perreault and Bouchard and Carlson, who are a little younger than me, can feel a little more comfortable talking to me rather than an older veteran like Mink, who plays a different style. I’ll assess that role if that’s what I’m being given. It’s great if I can play a leadership role on a team as special as this.”