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Bears vs. Pens East Division Finals Game 2


The Hershey Bears subscribed to Yogi Berra’s philosophy of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” when facing the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in game two of the East Division Finals at Giant Center on Sunday evening, by continuing to display balanced scoring and solid goaltending.

The Bears made their mark on the scoreboard first when Oskar Osala, stationed high in the slot between the hash marks, uncorked a shot that eluded Pens’ goaltender, John Curry, low to the glove side, to give the Bears a 1-0 lead. Osala‘s goal was the product of only the second shot of the game for Hershey.

Hershey rookie defenseman, John Carlson, who made his professional debut in Saturday’s game, netted his 1st career goal at 13:54, stretching Hershey’s lead to 2-0.

Carlson, arriving late on the scene in an odd-man foray into Penguins’ territory, lofted a rebound over a sprawling Curry, after he had made a spectacular save on Francois Bouchard on the original shot.

“I just saw it was a 3-on-2, so I just decided to jump in and be the third guy and just got lucky with the puck sitting there in the crease and I banged it in,” said Carlson.

Carlson was just as adept in his zone during his impressive inaugural weekend in the AHL, partnered with Greg Amadio tonight after skating alongside Arsene on Saturday.

“I think they are pretty similar in style because they both like to talk a lot, and that helps me a lot,” Carlson said. “It was another great game by my partner, and it always helps when your partner is playing good.”

The Bears made it 3-0 in the latter stages of the period when Graham Mink, after receiving a pretty pass from Matthieu Perreault from behind the net, quickly unleashed a shot that buzzed by the beleaguered Curry at 17:51.

After Hershey showed it’s offensive prowess in the first period, the club put on a stellar defensive performance in the second stanza, particularly on the penalty kill which faced down a major challenge early in the period, when Mink and Steve Pinizzotto were sent to the penalty box within a span of 28 seconds, giving the visitors a two-man advantage for ninety-two seconds.

The Penguins’ power play, which struck for a pair of goals in the series opener and was ranked first in the league in the post-season entering the contest, was held in check during the sequence, and did not register a single shot on goal.

“We know how potent their offense is, especially when they have a manpower advantage,” said veteran defenseman, Dean Arsene. “It’s just a lot of hard work, and we got some good bounces in our favor. Neuvy came up with some good saves.”

The Bears’ penalty kill has undergone a transformation from worst in the league in the regular season to first in the loop in the playoffs.

“I think it’s a little more attention to detail,” said Arsene, explaining the turnaround. “Overall, I think we were just thinking a little too much instead of just going and pressuring. Anytime you can pressure people, you may not cause a turnover on the first guy, but if they keep moving it, eventually they may turn it over or give us a chance to clear it.”

The Penguins, unable to penetrate the armor of Bears’ goalie, Michal Neuvirth, until 18:04 of the third period, showed obvious frustration when taking some questionable shots at Hershey players, including Jeff Taffe’s assault on Graham Mink late in the third period.

The Bears, however, held the lead and their composure, coming up with the win, 3-1, and a 2-0 lead in the series.

“I think that’s just part of the playoffs, getting physical,” said Mink. “I knew we had a penalty there, so there wasn’t any point in me doing anything about it. You’re going to give them your best shot, and they’re going to give you theirs. That just comes with the territory. You just need to keep your head and not retaliate, because it‘s not going to help your team.”

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Bears vs. WB/S Pens Eastern Finals 1


Balance was the buzz word at Giant Center following the Hershey Bears’ 5-3 victory over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the first game of the Eastern Division Finals on Saturday night.

While taking their 1-0 lead in the series, the Bears received goals from five different players. That, combined with the outstanding performances from special teams units, factored heavily into the triumph.

“I think that’s (balanced scoring) been one of our strengths all year long, and this time of year, usually that’s how it works,” said Bears’ head coach, Bob Woods. “You look at the NHL series, and it’s not always the big dogs scoring all the time. Our (big) guys scored a couple nice goals, but for the most part, you have to have chip ins from everybody. I think that’s what makes us dangerous.”

After Hershey’s penalty killing unit continued it’s perfect post-season pace, killing off an early Penguins’ power play, the Bears struck with a power play goal of their own, with defenseman, Staffan Kronwall, supplying the charge at 9:38 of the first period.

Kronwall, who sat out Hershey’s series clinching win over the Phantoms last Friday after suffering a scratched cornea in the previous game, fired a seeing-eye shot that deflected off Pens’ defenseman, Joey Mormina.

Chris Bourque, a former college teammate of Penguins’ net minder, John Curry, cued a shot off him at 11:13, giving the Bears a 2-0 advantage.

“I knew someone was going to shoot it, and I wasn’t even watching it,” Bourque said. “I just kind of put my stick out there, and it hit my stick and went to the backboards. I knew Curry wasn’t getting to the post as quick as he could have, and I banked it off his skate and barely made it over the line.”

Late in the first period, Hershey’s Oskar Osala, hooked down by Mormina after receiving a pass from Alzner, was awarded a penalty shot by referee, Ghislain Hebert. Osala’s awkward attempt beat Curry, but failed to find the back of the net, ricocheting harmlessly off the post.

The visitors tied the game in the latter stages of the second period when Jean-Michel Daoust and Nick Johnson scored less than three minutes apart.

At 19:43 of the stanza, Andrew Gordon’s power play goal gave the Bears a lead that they refused to surrender for the remainder of the evening.

“Helmer good at finding those lanes, so that’s my job on the power play, to get in front of the net and stir up some traffic and make it tough for the goalie to see,” said Gordon. “It was one of those plays where I swung my stick at it. I probably do that a hundred times a game and don’t connect on any of them, but I was fortunate to get my stick on that one.”

Gordon showed another side to his game, setting up Kyle Wilson for a slam dunk at 1:38 of the third period.

Baby Pen Johnson, who scored the game winner in the regular season finale between the two teams, added a second goal to his playoff resume, keeping the Bears on their toes.

Hershey’s big gun, Alexandre Gioux, put a halt to the Penguins’ comeback march, scoring his third goal of the playoffs to ice the game, 5-3.

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Bears Survive Buzzer Beater, Shave Pens 04.04.09


The Hershey Bears were lucky that number 17, Chris Bourque, raced into the Wachovia Arena in Wilkes-Barre just 17 minutes before the opening faceoff, after arriving at Harrisburg International Airport earlier in the afternoon. Bourque was returning from services in Boston for his grandfather who passed away earlier in the week, and his return paid immediate dividends, as he assisted on both of Alexandre Giroux’s goals, and added a shootout goal to lead his team to a 3-2 shootout victory on Saturday night over division rivals, the Baby Pens.

“It was definitely a different experience that I haven’t been through these last few days,” said a somber Bourque. “It was definitely hard and took a toll on me more emotionally than anything, but hockey is what I do; it’s what I love to do, and it’s not too hard for me to get up for games. I wanted to play, and these are big points. You can’t really just go out and miss games. I’m happy I got here in time for the game.”

With assistance from Bourque and Mathieu Perreault, Alexandre Giroux gave the Bears a 1-0 lead at 1:25 with his 56th goal of the season, walking in from the left wing boards, and then brilliantly stickhandling the puck between Pens’ defenseman, Joey Mormina, and goaltender, John Curry, before sliding a backhander beneath the pads of Curry.

“I was trying to get on the far side where Bourque was calling for the pass,” Giroux said. “I saw the open space five-hole. I was surprised they gave me that much room, but it was a good start for our line.”

Bourque was at it again late in the period, intercepting a Penguins’ clearing attempt at the blueline and then finding Giroux all alone in the right faceoff circle. Giroux, with Curry already down in the butterfly position, roofed a wrist shot into the upper portion of the net at 16:00, giving the Bears a 2-0 lead to take into the first intermission.

“Bourque did all the work: a nice pass, nice blocking,” said Giroux, who, with this point, tied his teammate, Keith Aucoin, for the AHL point scoring lead. “I just had to use a little patience to get it up over the goalie.”

Bears goaltender, Michal Neuvirth was outstanding in the first period, stopping all 12 WBS shots, and just as importantly, not allowing any tasty rebounds for the home team to feast on.

“We needed an effort like that,” said Hershey head coach, Bob Woods. “We’ve had pretty tough travel this week. They were sitting at home resting last night, so we knew they were going to come at us hard. We needed somebody back there to weather the storm and I thought he was awesome.”

The second period featured no goals, and few scoring chances for either club, although Janne Pesonen’s backhander at 8:08, seconds after the Penguins had successfully killed of a bench minor penalty for having too many men on the ice, rang off the post.

Oskar Osala, the Bears talented rookie forward, who entered the game with 40 penalty minutes and no fighting majors, duked it out with former Bear, Deryk Engelland, at center ice. Osala, although unable to land any solid punches on the tough-as-nails Engelland, survived the battle virtually unscathed, despite having his jersey over his head for the majority of the bout.

After his return to the Bears’ bench, Woods counseled Osala on the timing of the tilt.
“When you have a 2-0 lead in the other team’s building, it’s probably not a good time to fight,” said Woods. “Nothing against Oskar, but he’s a pretty tough kid, so I’m not seeing much positive come out of that situation other than firing up their crowd.”

The Penguins waddled back into the game in the third period when Paul Bissonnette scored his 7th goal of the season, cutting the Bears’ lead in half at 14:21.

The Pens persisted after Bissonnette’s goal, eventually netting the dramatic game-tying goal with just 3.2 seconds left on the clock. The goal was scored by Mark Letestu, after the Pens’ centerman out dueled the Bears’ Andrew Joudrey on the faceoff draw.

After a scoreless overtime period that featured only two shots on goal between the two teams, setting the stage for the shootout sideshow.

Darren Reid, a surprising selection, shot first for the Bears, and beat Curry with a nifty backhand maneuver.

“He’s pretty talented,” said Woods of his selection. “If he was in the lineup more often, you’d probably see him more often (in shootouts). He’s a pretty gifted player. I know his stats don’t show that, but even tonight, he could have had a couple of goals in regulation.

Bourque scored the shootout game winner, propelling a shot past his former college teammate, Curry.

“I think it might have hit both of his pads, but it had enough steam to just get over the line,” said Bourque. “I thought I made a pretty good shot, and I was happy it got through.”

Neuvirth, after allowing goals in the second and third rounds, finished strong, stopping the last two contestants.

Notes:
Hershey scratched Patrick McNeill, Francois Bouchard, Sean Collins, Greg Amadio and goaltender, Braden Holtby (all healthy), Keith Aucoin (recall) and Graham Mink (injured).

Giroux’s two goals in the first period marked his 10th multi-goal game of the year, and 7th multi-goal period.

Giroux, the only Hershey shooter that failed to beat Curry in the shootout, is 2-for-12 on the season in that category, including being snuffed out on his last 10 attempts.

Hershey now has 104 points with three games to be played, while WBS has 99 points with four games ahead.

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Pens Stuff Bears’ Attack


The menacing Bears, flying high on a five-game winning streak, were grounded by the Wilkes-Barre Penguins, who handed the home team their 3rd shutout of the season, and their first whitewashing at home since December 18, 2005, in a game that was also against the Baby Pens.

In the opening stanza, the Bears, despite registering 11 shots on goal, never seriously tested WBS goaltender, John Curry. However, their penalty-killing unit, still ranked last in the league, faced a substantial test in the WBS power play, recently bolstered by the addition of longtime NHL player, Miroslav Satan.

After the Bears dodged a bullet on their first venture on the penalty kill, the Penguins struck pay dirt on the second, with Dustin Jeffrey netting the goal at 19:12. Jeffrey, after receiving a Chris Minard pass from behind the net, outraced Hershey’s Chris Bourque to the slot, then quickly shuffled the biscuit behind Hershey netminder, Simeon Varlamov. Varlamov, the hard-luck loser, stopped 36 of 37 shots in the contest.

Even with the benefit of being afforded all three second period power plays, the Bears were still unable to shake the slumber from their lumber in the second period, getting only six shots on goal in the stanza.

The Penguins had the best scoring chance of the period when Jeff Taffe narrowly missed giving the visitors a 2-0 lead at 4:30 of the second period, sliding a Minard pass just past the left post moments after Hershey squandered a 3-on-1 charge into the WBS zone.

Late in the period a pair of unlikely combatants dropped the gloves in anger when Hershey’s Andrew Gordon and WBS’ Minard fought. Gordon, engaging in the first fight of his professional career, fared well in his first professional bout, winning a narrow decision on this judge’s scorecard. When asked to critique his fight after the game, Gordon, who was addressed by his passing teammates as “Killer” and “Gordon the Butcher”, seemed to have enjoyed the experience.

“I’d say it was two guys who probably don’t go too often,” Gordon joked. “He (Minard) was joking about it afterwards, saying, ‘If I knew you could fight, I wouldn’t have asked you’. I didn’t know I could, either, so it was a mystery to both of us,” Gordon laughed.

The Bears picked up the pace in the third period, registering 14 shots on goal and accruing another three power plays, including a 5-on-3 for 1:15, yet were unable to crack Curry, who earned his 4th shutout of the season.

Gordon, who registered three shots on net, was not surprised by the low scoring affair:

“Their defensemen are so big, and it’s tough to penetrate on them. They have good reaches, and they play simple and stick to their system,” said Gordon. “So, it’s usually a tough game when we play them. The majority of the games we’ve played against them have been one-goal games and shootouts. It’s always a tight chess match with these guys.”

After the defeat, Hershey head coach, Bob Woods, who took the loss in stride, seemed satisfied that his team gave their best effort.

“I think we know we can play with those guys. It’s a pretty good team over there. You look at the depth they have; those first three lines are as good as anybody’s.”

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