Saturday, May 12, 2007

Playoffs ain't for rookies

Of the top 100 scorers in the playoffs thus far (well, 107, given ties), only seven are rookies. Of the top 40 goal scorers (ok, 42), three are rookies.

The Peerless Heads to Hershey . . .

The Peerless has just returned from Hershey, where the Bears put the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins out of their misery with a 7-6 overtime win at Giant Center. It was nothing if not entertaining.

First, The Peerless was seated just behind the player benches, where he got a full measure of heckling, Hershey style. The fans never let up on everyone’s favorite AHL bad-guy, Dennis Bonvie. Bonvie, who probably had a half-dozen shifts all night, was given the nickname “The Doorman” for his prowess at manning the bench door as players were coming off. Bonvie gave as good as he got, jawing with the fans and once resorting to squirting fans with a water bottle in the row behind the bench. J-F Jacques – who ended the season of center Joey Tenute earlier in the series – was another special object of Hershey fans’ affection.

As for the game, what it lacked in pure aesthetics (especially in defense and goaltending) it made up for in determination. The Penguins came out just as one might expect a team down 3-1 to come out – full of urgency. They carried the play to the Bears early, and the pressure paid off with a goal by Marc-Antoine Pouliot four minutes in. Then, the march to the penalty box began in earnest . . . Wilkes-Barre took the first two penalties to give the Bears a shot five-on-three. Scott Barney would make them pay, tying the game at 6:25. From there, it was two club throwing haymakers at one another. By the time the ice chips settled at the end of the period, it was 4-3 in favor of Hershey on the scoreboard, and 5-5 in penalties.

There were two story lines building for Hershey in that first period. Scott Barney had two goals, both coming on 5-on-3 power plays. And, Tomas Fleischmann totaled three assists. The seven goals scored by the two clubs was more than the combined total of first period goals in the series (six). Wilkes-Barre wasn’t going without a fight, and Hershey wasn’t going to relinquish its crown easily.

Things settled down in the second with only three goals scored. The problem for the Bears was, two of them were scored by the Penguins – one on the power play and one shorthanded. The Bears goal came courtesy of Barney, who completed the hat trick. At 5-5 after two, it was clearly a case of last to score wins.

Wilkes-Barre took it second lead of the game in the first minute of the third period, but the Bears got it back on a goal by Fleischmann four minutes later (his fifth point, tying a franchise playoff record). The only thing surprising was the fact that no goals were scored in the last 15 minutes of regulation. Perhaps not coincidentally, no penalties were called in those last 15 minutes, despite there having been 21 penalties called to that point.

Going to overtime has not been kind to Hershey thus far, their only two losses in the tournament thus far coming on the first shot in the first minute of overtime. Given that 12 goals had been scored, one did not have the feeling that the game would last long. The Peerless was of a mind that it would end by 10 pm . . . and by this time it was about 9:55.

As if on cue, the Bears took a penalty in the first minute of the extra frame, but less than a minute later the Penguins gave it back with a penalty of their own as Joe Jensen bowled over Frederic Cassivi in the crease and was called for goaltender interference. Cassivi was slow to get up and was a bit groggy when he did, but he remained in the game. The Penguins then took another penalty, and after they killed the short 5-on-3, took yet another to put themselves back on the short end of a 5-on-3. Ten seconds later, Alexandre Giroux banged home a rebound of a Chris Bourque shot from in close to send the fans leaping out of their seats and the Penguins into the off-season.

Some observations . . .

- The Peerless’ ears still hurt. He’d almost forgotten what a game winning goal in overtime is like for the home team.

- Tomas Fleischmann was a driven young man from the drop of the puck. When he took possession of the puck, he owned it. He could have had three or four more assists if the timing had been a little better on the back-end of tap-in chances.

- The Bears were the vastly more skilled team on the ice, but the Penguins were the harder-working team for most of the game.

- Frederic Cassivi was a half-step slow all night. As Bruce Boudreau suggested in the post-game interview, for 40 minutes the goaltending wasn’t very good (his comments applied to Nolan Schafer at the other end, too). But then, too, as Boudreau noted, Cassivi made the key save when he had to.

- Chris Bourque was flattened on a check, and if it wasn’t potentially serious (he was more or less blind-sided), it would have been funny . . . he was hit so hard that when he came up, his head looked to have been sheared off. His head was shoved down through the neck of his jersey, and he had to “pop out” as he was skating back into the play.

- Derek Engelland extracted his pound of flesh from J-F Jacques, winning a decision in their fight. What The Peerless found amusing about it was Jacques jawing to the linesman for letting Engelland throw a few more punches after it looked as if the two had spent themselves.

- Nygel Pelletier is the worst – no, really . . . the worst referee The Peerless has ever seen. He should be bagging groceries at the Giant on Route 15. The Peerless thinks he probably tore a rotator cuff in his shoulder with all the raising of his hand for penalties – he called 25.

- It sounded as if the Penguin fans that made the trek down had a “horn guy.” He sounded like a sea elephant with a toothache . . . wah-h-h-h-h-h-h . . . ah-h-h-h-h . . .ah-h-h-h . . .

- For the Bears, 11 skaters scored points . . . 12 took penalties. It was a busy night.

- The folks at Giant Center are so doggone nice. If you have a car, and you don’t drive up to catch the Bears, you’re missing a mighty entertaining night of hockey.