The Providence Bruins and Hershey Bears met at Giant Center for Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night. After feasting on the Penguins in the last round, the Bears found the task of moving up the food chain a bit more challenging, falling 3-2.
Providence drew first blood in the encounter, with both of their special teams units playing a role in the early going.
The Bruins’ penalty killing unit, which entered the game with a perfect record of 15 consecutive successful ventures on foreign ice in the playoffs, was featured first after Kirk MacDonald was whistled off for slashing at 2:19. That group performed flawlessly, making it 16 in a row in the early going, killing off the advantage without allowing a shot on goal.
Up next for the P-Bruins was their power play unit, which had struck for a pair of extra man markers in both of the regular season meetings between the clubs. Just over a minute into the advantage, Jeff Penner tallied at 8:03 to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
Later in the period, while on their second power play venture, the P-Bruins increased their lead to 2-0, when Jordan Knackstedt slid a backhander by sprawling Bears’ goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, at 16:19.
Former Bruin, Keith Aucoin, said that stumbling out of the starting block factored heavily into the Bears suffering the setback.
“We knew they were going to come hard, and we weren’t ready,” said Aucoin. “That’s why we lost the game.”
The Bears, after repelling an early attack in the second period, finally found a way to beat Bruins’ goaltender, Tuukka Rask, when Oskar Osala converted a beautiful cross-ice pass from Aucoin, and cut the Hershey deficit to a single goal.
Matt Marquardt restored the visitors’ two-goal cushion at 8:28, cashing on a rebound of a Zach Hamill shot that Neuvirth stopped, but could not control.
Moments after the line of Chris Bourque, Kyle Wilson, and Andrew Gordon put in an impressive shift, maintaining persistent offensive pressure in the Providence zone, but unable to find the back of net, Osala found the promised land, wristing a shot behind Rask at 14:41 to slice the Bruins’ bulge to a single goal for the second time in the game.
The Bears had several chances later in the game, particularly in the last minute of play; however, Rask was equal to the task, denying linemates Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux with quality saves, to preserve the Providence lead and assure his team the win.
“I think we came out a little flat, and they came out stronger than us, and the 2-0 lead was hard to come back from,” said Giroux.
If Hershey hopes to even the series tomorrow night, they will need to find a way to focus for a full 60 minutes.
“I could find any excuses, but it’s not going to find any solutions,” Giroux said. “It’s behind us now, and we’ve got to focus on tomorrow night.”