The Hershey Bears, facing an unfamiliar situation in the playoffs at Giant Center, trailing after one period of play, responded in familiar fashion, scoring the last two goals of the game and emerging with a 2-1 win over the Manitoba Moose on Sunday evening to take a 3-1 series lead in the best of seven Calder Cup Finals.
Raymond Sawada gave the Moose a 1-0 lead 11:37 into the first period, rifling a wrist shot past Hershey goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, from between the face-off circles.
Neuvirth’s counterpart, Cory Schneider, who has been outstanding between the pipes for the Moose against the high octane Hershey attack, kept the Bears off the board late in the period, repelling Mathieu Perreault’s backhand attempt from close range to keep it a 1-0 game after twenty minutes of play.
Just as Schneider did late in the first period, Neuvirth nullified high-scoring Moose forward, Michael Grabner’s, backhand attempt in the opening minute of the second period with the visitors in the midst of a power play.
Kyle Wilson willed home the equalizer for the Bears 5:11 into the second period, wristing a shot by the glove hand of Schneider, after the Moose netminder lost his angle and gave Wilson a huge target at which to shoot. Wilson’s goal was his third of the playoffs and his first since the opening game of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton series.
“Gordon made a great play with a little saucer pass to me,” said Wilson, who has never missed a playoff game in his three-year Hershey career. “I had to fight off a couple guys and get myself free to make a good shot. By the time I did that, the goalie had committed down pretty low, so I had to get up and over him.”
Bear’s defenseman John Carlson, who made his debut in Hershey during game one against the Baby Pens and picked up the secondary assist on Wilson’s goal, is enjoying the rollercoaster ride in his rookie season.
“It’s an unbelievable experience and opportunity to be placed in a situation like this. Some guys never get it, and here I am, 19 years old, and having a shot to do it. I couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Carlson, the Washington Capitals’ 1st round selection in the 2008 draft.
Schneider regained his sharpness after the Wilson goal, denying a pair of quality chances by Hershey’s leading point scorer, Keith Aucoin to send the game into the third period, knotted at 1-1.
Early in the third period, Quintin Laing, Hershey’s inspirational leader, delivered a crunching hit on Manitoba’s Dusty Collins, giving his team an emotional lift and seemed to provide a spark in the step of the home team.
“I was a little cautious about throwing my body around in my first game back, but after I took a couple of good hits and handled those and nothing happened to me, I figured if I could take them, I could give them,” said Laing, who will celebrate his 30th birthday on Monday.
With former Capital, Nolan Baumgartner, already in the box serving a penalty for hooking, a sloppy line change cost the Moose another skater, and gave the Bears a 5-on-3 opportunity for 65 seconds.
Thanks to some early communication problems between Keith Aucoin and Staffan Kronwall, Hershey used 63 of those precious seconds before Aucoin atoned for his error in judgment by depositing an errant shot by Alexandre Giroux into the cage.
“I screwed up at the beginning, throwing it down the other end,” said Aucoin. “I got a lucky bounce off the wall there and was able to capitalize. I had a lot of shots high, and I was due for one.”
Despite a Moose power play chance at the end of the game, the Bears held on for the win, with Neuvirth preserving his win by kicking aside Jason Krog’s bid in the closing seconds.
Hershey’s victory moved them within just one win of capturing their 10th Calder Cup Championship, which would be their first on home ice since 1980 when the Bears defeated the New Brunswick Hawks, a team which featured former Bears’ coach, Bruce Boudreau as its leading scorer.
Laing, a nine year veteran in search of his first professional championship, favors Hershey’s position, but views Tuesday’s game with caution.
“It’s a good feeling to be this close, but we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. The clinching game has always been the toughest the last three rounds. We’re expecting a good, hard fight, and the crowd is going to be behind us; hopefully we can feed off of them.”