Sunday, June 03, 2007

Now that's better . . . Bears tie the series, 1-1

“We are advancing constantly and we're not interested in holding onto anything -- except the enemy. We're going to hold onto him by the nose, and we're gonna kick him in the ass. We're gonna kick the hell out of him all the time, and we're gonna go through him like crap through a goose!”

If you’ve seen the movie, “Patton,” you’ll recall that from the opening speech delivered by George C. Scott’s "Patton" to the troops. And if there was a difference between last night and tonight at Giant Center in the Calder Cup Finals, it was that the Hershey Bears brought the same intensity they displayed for ten minutes Friday night (and only ten minutes, until the last minute of the game) for a full 60 minutes. It was rewarded with a 4-2 win over the Hamilton Bulldogs to even the series, 1-1.

The Bears started last evening’s contest very much like they did Friday night, taking the action to the Bulldogs early. Even with having to kill off an early penalty to Quintin Laing for elbowing, the Bears controlled the action for the first five minutes. But Hamilton did what they did on Friday and scored first – Zack Stortini was coming late on a Hamilton rush and converted a feed from Dan Jancevski into a wrister that beat Frederic Cassivi over the right pad.

Unlike Friday night, however, the air didn’t seep out of the Bears’ balloon. The Bears, as part of a theme that lasted all evening, did a fine job of forechecking and denying Hamilton a first pass to leave the zone. The hard work paid off when the Bears had a man-advantage -- Scott Barney picked up a loose puck behind the Bulldog goal line, stepped out and slipped the puck past Carey Price’s left pad.

Hamilton regained the lead in the second on a disputed play that could have been the turning point in the Bears’ season. Jancevski sent a drive toward the goal that Kyle Chipchura redirected. As Chipchura was exhibiting his handiwork, Jonathan Ferland was exhibiting some of his, taking out Cassivi’s skate, causing the goalie to tumble backwards to the ice. It was enough to allow the puck to skip by Cassivi to give Hamilton the lead once more at 7:21 of the second period, and despite protests from Cassivi, referee Terry “Krullers” Koharski allowed it to stand. The fans registered their displeasure, once for the play and once more for the replay – shown on the big screen (something you’ll never see at an NHL arena).

However, that was not the turning point to the Bears’ season, but what happened 42 seconds later might have been. The line of Joey Tenute (returning from a broken rib and punctured lung suffered in the Penguin series), Tomas Fleischmann, and Jakub Klepis had been reunited by coach Bruce Boudreau. Fleischmann, who would have a fine game, even though he did not make a large dent in the scoresheet, dug the puck out of the left wing corner and fed it across to Klepis steaming down the slot. Klepis snapped the puck past Price, and the game was tied once more.

The Bears would take advantage of a power play opportunity later in the period to take their first lead of the game. Mike Green, leading the power play from the top of the zone, slid the puck to Chad Wiseman at the left point. Wiseman took a moment to find a shooting angle and sent a drive to the short side of Price. Scott Barney redirected the puck past Price’s blocker, and the arena erupted.

In the third period, Hershey’s hard work paid off one last time. Matt Hendricks (who The Peerless thinks has Hershey’s top Mohawk of the season), caused a turnover deep in the Hamilton zone as a result of his aggressive forechecking. Hendricks separated a Bulldog from the puck, then secured it and fed Chris Bourque in alone on Price. Bourque found the back of the net, and the arena went into a towel-waving frenzy.

Although this would end the scoring, the last half of the third period was not without its moments. Hershey had to kill two Hamilton power plays and a 6-on-5 situation to end the game. Playing about five minutes of the last 9:46 shorthanded, the Bears had to muster all the grit available to fend off a Bulldog team that had won seven consecutive road games. They did, and the sellout crowd left happy knowing that this is now a best-of-five series.

Things we saw…

- Although Bruce Boudreau said in the post-game that Tenute knew Wednesday that he’d dress for Saturday, his presence provided an obvious lift to the club and to the fans. Unfortunately, Dean Arsene, who had his own physical problems in the post season, could not answer the bell for the back-to-back. But he left no doubt in an intermission interview that he would be back.

- Hershey played with a much greater sense of urgency, befitting a team that could have gone down 2-0 in its own building. One knew that it was a desperate situation when Fleischmann and Klepis both got into brief kerfuffles with Bulldogs, not just on the same shift, but on the same play in front of the Hamilton net.

- Hershey took a page out of the Hamilton playbook, denying all night the Bulldogs’ ability to generate any momentum through the middle of the ice. The Bears took the matter another step forward with a withering forecheck that had Bulldogs misfiring on first passes or giving up the puck in their own zone often.

- Even though Carey Price gave up four goals on 40 shots (positively sieve-like, compared to Friday’s performance), he still played a superb game. The difference was the Bears’ forecheck, which led directly to three goals, and a greater willingness to pay a price (so to speak) and create traffic in front of him, denying him the opportunity to feel as comfortable as he did Friday, when he had a good look at most shots.

- The Peerless was not behind the Bulldog bench tonight, but from his perch in Section 119 could still see the flower of Hershey fandom abusing the Hamilton bench with expressions of respect and affection.

- The difference between the AHL and the NHL . . . a Hamilton player was setting up behind the Bulldog net to start the play. There was Louis Robitaille at the top of the Bulldog crease with the blade of his stick up in Carey Price’s face – his own Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken moment. Price looked at Robitaille with a look of serenity (which seems to be the adjective that most aptly describes Price’s demeanor on the ice). The Peerless wonders, does Robitatille make this stuff up as he goes, or does he sit in his locker before games and make up a script . . . “second period…perform ‘Slapshot’ tribute.”

- Krullers Koharski was seen leaving Giant Center with his right arm in a sling, no doubt from raising his hand 20 times last night, awarding a total of 18 power plays. Whereas the Bulldogs were 3-for-7 on Friday, they were 0-for-9 last night. Conversely, Hershey’s 0-for-9 on Friday was replaced by a 2-for-9 last night. That the clubs are a combined 5-for-34 on the power play so far (14.7 percent) belies the fact that the club that can successfully kill off those advantages has won each game.

- Hamilton has a big squad. So does Hershey. There is a rule that applies here that applies to any contact sport (even ballroom dancing). It’s better to initiate the hit than to have it done unto you. Hershey did that – often – last night, and it paid off. If that level of effort and aggression can be maintained, Hershey should see dividends as the series progresses.

It’s been really great to attend two games in a community that so clearly and obviously stands with their team. A sold-out arena, playoff hockey, horns, cowbells, the B-U-L-L-S-H-*-T guy, puck heads, bear hats, and Bears jerseys everywhere. We hope that if the Bears can’t close out the series in Canada, that those fans get to celebrate a Calder win on Giant Center ice. And here’s hoping Verizon Center ice can experience that kind of thrill sooner rather than later.

Like crap through a goose, indeed. Well . . . a bulldog, anyway.


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