Although Hershey goaltender, Michal Neuvirth’s, stellar performance with 28 saves that earned him a shutout and bragging rights as the number one star of the game, the gritty stylings of Steve Pinizzotto figured just as prominently in the Bears’ 3-0 win over the Manitoba Moose on Saturday at Giant Center.
Pinizzotto, Hershey’s fourth line punisher who has befuddled each of the Bears’ opponents in the playoffs with his bone bruising style, was on top of his game early in the first period, with his workmanlike methods proving instrumental in drawing the first penalty of the game, a slashing infraction on Manitoba’s Shaun Heshka at 6:14.
“For him to be effective, he’s got to be that type of player,” said the Bears’ head coach, Bob Woods, of Pinizzotto, who has answered the challenge since their mid-March conference. “We don’t need him yapping and stuff like that. We need him out there being physical, and when you play that way, you get a lot off people’s attention. You get guys a little bit concerned every time you touch the puck, and when he’s on the ice, you’ve got to keep your head up.”
Hershey wasted little time on the power play that resulted from Pinizzotto’s labor, when Graham Mink struck 8 seconds into the advantage. Mink’s goal was his 6th of the playoffs, and 4th game-winner.
“I just wanted to get to the front of the net, and Kronwall made a great play coming down the wall and throwing it up front,” said Mink. “I got my stick on it, and it bounced in over the goalie’s leg pad. We wanted to get the first goal, and I was fortunate enough to be there.”
Staffan Kronwall and Chris Bourque picked up the helpers on the Mink marker. Bourque’s assist, his 15th of the post-season, temporarily put him in a first place tie for the league lead in that category with his teammate, Keith Aucoin.
Hershey’s power play perfection continued, and Aucoin regained his assist lead midway through the second period when he assisted on Alexandre Giroux’s league-leading 14th goal of the playoffs at 9:38, giving the Bears a 2-0 lead. Giroux’s goal was also his 9th power play goal of the postseason.
“It was a kind of a 3-on-1 and I doubted whether to take the shot. I was thinking of passing back to Mink, but while I was in my motion, I just decided to let it go,” said Giroux, explaining his change-of-pace shot. “It was not my hardest shot, but sometimes you just have to place it and it goes in.”
Neuvirth, who did not see his first shot of the game until more than six minutes had elapsed, displayed some of his best handiwork when he made a pair of glittering glove saves later in the game on Jason Jaffray, who scored a hat trick at the rookie’s expense in game two in Manitoba.
“The first saves are always huge, and I want to make the saves as early as I can,” said Neuvirth. “It’s always tough for a goalie to have to stand there for like six minutes.”
An empty net goal by the recently returning Quintin Laing sealed the Moose’s fate for the evening, giving the Bears the 2-1 lead in the Calder Cup Finals.
Neuvirth, who earned his sixth number one star of the game, and fourth shutout victory, drew high praise from veteran forward Mink, who also had a firsthand look when Frederic Cassivi backstopped the Bears to the 2006 Calder Cup Championship.
“Nothing rattles him, nothing phases him. He’s given us a chance to win every game. That’s all you can ask out of a goalie, especially one as young as he is. He’s got a promising future.”