Sunday, June 07, 2009

Bears Win! -- Calder Cup Final, Game 3: Bears 3 - Moose 0


The Hershey Bears played 60 solid minutes of hockey to beat the Manitoba Moose at Giant Center and take a 2-1 lead in the Calder Cup final series. Despite the pace of play being up-and-down the ice for much of the evening, there weren’t a lot of scoring opportunities at even strength for either team (although Hershey had the majority of them). The game was decided on special teams, where the Bears were able to convert two of three power play opportunities, while Manitoba was shooting blanks on five man-advantage situations.

It is said that your best penalty killer has to be your goaltender, and Michal Neuvirth certainly was that for the Bears. In pitching the shutout, Neuvirth denied the Moose on nine power play shots, including several chances on a 5-on-3 the Moose enjoyed early in the second period with the Bears clinging to a 1-0 lead. Neuvirth was cat-quick all night in moving from post to post and was especially sharp with his glove hand, frustrating many Moose… uh, Mooses… (and we know this from watching Moose skating back to their bench muttering to themselves). Neuvirth did not come by his first star of the night by accident; he earned his recognition.

It might be said that the Bears were luckier in some respects. Their two power play goals were scored off a goal mouth redirection (Graham Mink) and a one timer that Manitoba goalie Cory Schneider almost got enough of to keep it out of the net (Alexandre Giroux). The last goal was an empty netter by the hardest working man in hockey – Quintin Laing, who is still throwing his body in front of shots. Otherwise, Cory Schneider was just as sharp for the Moose, but the operative word there is, “otherwise.”

The Bears had chances, to be sure. Graham Mink had the puck at the doorstep early in the first period but couldn’t solve Schneider. Jay Beagle had room on the far side of Schneider late in the first, but Schneider got a blocker on his drive to send the puck into the corner. In the second minute of the second period, Schneider denied Giroux twice as the Bear was skating across the top of the crease. Andrew Gordon had a breakaway that could have given the Bears a 3-0 lead late in the third, but the puck wouldn’t behave for him, and his chance went wide of the net.

Among the other Bears, Staffan Kronwall had an especially solid game from the blue line, contributing two assists, but playing a simple game in his own end, too.

Giroux did what guys at this time of year have to do, and that’s more than score. He leveled a Moose at the Hershey line that got a roar from the sellout crowd.

John Carlson clearly has talent. Based on what we saw tonight, he’s also clearly not ready for a jump to the big time. He was just hesitant enough on a few decisions to turn the puck over and give the Moose some momentum.

Chris Bourque is one feisty little cuss. But sometimes, we wonder what he’s thinking, too. There were a few ill-timed passes through the middle of the ice of the sort that can make a goaltender’s night more difficult than it has to be. But there was Bourque at the end of the game, skating after Pierre-Cedric Labrie – seven inches taller and 35 pounds heavier – barking at him for Labrie’s trying to start a ruckus with anyone in a Bear jersey after the final horn.

Karl Alzner looked rusty. Small wonder, given how much time he’s missed. But even with that, Alzner has a knack for making the simple, correct play.

Oskar Osala never seemed to get into the rhythm of the game. He was looking for Moose to hit and pucks to shoot, but always seemed to be just late in arriving where he could do some damage.

Before the game started, there was played on the video board an excerpt from Manitoba coach Scott Arniel’s press conference after Manitoba’s 3-1 win in Game 2. He made mention of the fact that the Moose would be heading for Hershey, where the crowd was not likely to be as loud as that at MTS Centre. Well, we’ve never been to MTS Centre, but it was plenty loud in Giant Center.

We’re tempted to say that there was a healthy contingent from Caps land. There were quite a few folks in the parking lot before the game sporting red Capitals jerseys, and there was quite a line of tail lights headed south on cars with Virginia and Maryland license plates after the game.

We were in the first row along the glass for this one, the first time we’ve had that experience. It certainly makes for a different look and feel (not to mention sound) of the game than seeing it from the balcony, as we do for Caps games.

The Koharski tradition is in safe hands. Don might have retired, but his brother Terry is picking up the mantle of doofusness. There were times in this one when Koharski was less a referee and more a third defenseman for the Moose, blocking several attempts by Bears on the same shift to send the puck deep around the boards. Terry… get the crullers outta yer ass, already.

That’s three shutouts in Neuvirth’s last five games on Giant Center ice, and he might have had a fourth, but Brad Marchand scored a goal with 36 seconds left in a 2-1 Bears win over Providence in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final. Neuvirth is now third in the playoffs in GAA, sixth in save percentage, first in shutouts, and most important, first in wins.

Hershey is still in a position to win the series without having to get on an airplane any more. But that won’t be easy. Manitoba had their chances, but Neuvirth had the answer for all of them tonight. Now, they do it all again tomorrow.

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