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Bears Advance to Calder Cup Final

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Final Bound – For the fourth time in five seasons, the Hershey Bears are headed to the Calder Cup finals. Hershey authored a thrilling, 3-2 come-from-behind victory on Saturday night at Giant Center to oust the Manchester Monarchs in six games in a tightly played and contested series.

Boyd Kane’s first goal of the playoffs came at 7:02 of overtime to end the series, sending Manchester home for the summer and Hershey to the finals against either Texas or Hamilton. Hamilton currently holds a 3-2 advantage in the Western Conference final series.

“It’s been a special year,” says Bears coach Mark French. “It’s obviously nice to get back to the finals. At the start of the year, you think you have an opportunity with the lineup that you have. But there’s a lot of work ahead of you. So it’s pretty rewarding for the guys in the room.”

For the first 40 minutes of Saturday’s Game 6, it seemed as though Manchester would force a deciding seventh game on Sunday.

The Bears had the better of things territorially in the first period, but still went to the room in a 1-0 hole after the first 20 minutes of play. Hershey generated its first scoring chance and its first shot on goal in the game’s first shift, but it needed nearly 11 more minutes to test Monarchs goaltender Jonathan Bernier for a second time. That span included a two-minute Bears power play went Trevor Lewis went off for slashing at 6:02 of the first.

At least twice during the second period the Bears passed themselves out of prime scoring chances in the middle of the ice. They also had odd-man breaks on which they failed to convert, or to get a shot off.

Manchester got on the board first after a disputed non-icing call gave the Monarchs possession in the Hershey zone late in the first frame. John Zeiler scored his fourth of the playoffs with help from Gabe Gauthier and Alec Martinez. The goal was a late dagger; it came with just 16.9 seconds left in the period.

“I think they made the right call,” says French. “The call was that [Bears goaltender] Michal [Neuvirth] came out of his crease to play the puck. He didn’t play it because it was outside of the area that he could play it. I head the linesman yelling, ‘No icing, no icing!’ Our players didn’t play to the whistle like they should. We didn’t get back into our defensive posture very well and left a guy open.”

The Monarchs outshot the Bears by a 9-4 count in the first.

Early in the second, Bears blueliner Patrick McNeill made a great play to swipe a puck away from the Hershey goal line just as it was about to go over and give Manchester a 2-0 lead. It was the beginning of a big night for McNeill.

The pace slowed considerably in the middle of the second as a series of whistles took some of the air out of the game. Manchester generated a 2-on-1 break late in the frame. A tic-tac-toe passing sequence gave the Monarchs an open net chance, but the shot was shanked wide. However, the Bears were still scrambly and out of position. Manchester retained control of the puck in the attack zone and finally finished when blueliner Joe Piskula jumped up to score his second of the playoffs at 17:44, giving the visitors a 2-0 lead.

Down 2-0 on the scoreboard and 24-13 in shots on goal after two, the Bears came out all fired up for the final frame. Manchester laid back, and was guilty of icing the puck twice in the first 76 seconds of the period.

A third icing call gave the Bears an offensive zone face-off at 7:29 of the third and eight seconds later, the puck was in the Manchester net. Keith Aucoin won the draw, took a pass from John Carlson and fired a shot on goal. Bernier made the save, but an unmarked Alexandre Giroux deposited the loose change behind Bernier to halve the Manchester margin to 2-1.

Just under seven minutes later, the Bears drew even. Francois bouchard partially fanned on a shot, and the puck came to Mathieu Perreault. He dished to Chris Bourque along the right wing half wall. Bourque waited patiently for McNeill to drift to center point, then passed to him. McNeill floated a waist high wrister toward the goal and it found the net to make it 2-2 with 5:51 left in regulation.

Giroux, Bourque and Kane all had early but unsuccessful chances on Bernier in overtime, but it was the veteran Kane who finally solved him from a spot between the top right side of the crease and the bottom of the right circle.

“I thought he played an excellent game,” says French of Kane. “He had a very good series, though he was scoreless  [until tonight]. The goal came at a real nice time.”

“We never quit,” notes Kane. “We know Neuvy is going to hold us in there every time. It takes us a bit to get going. Against these guys we knew we had to be patient. They don’t give you a lot. But we kept pushing and pushing, and soon it’s going to break. It did there tonight. We got it tied up and got the win in overtime.”

White Knuckles – Five of the six games in the series – the last five in succession – were decided by a single goal and four of the last five games of the set required overtime to determine a winner.

Another Hero – Kane became the seventh different Bear to score an overtime game-winner in the 2010 Calder Cup playoffs.

Playoff Debut – Caps center prospect Cody Eakin made his Calder Cup playoff debut in Game 6 against the Monarchs. Eakin, Washington’s third-round choice (85th overall) scored two goals in four regular season games with the Bears late in the 2009-10 campaign.

Cooking At Home – The Bears dropped two of three games in Manchester during the Eastern Conference final, but they won all three games played at Giant Center. Hershey has now won a phenomenal 37 of its last 38 games on home ice, dating back to a 5-4 shootout loss to Adirondack on Nov. 28, 2009.

The Bears are 8-0 on home ice in the playoffs and an astonishing 42-4-0-2 since the start of the 2009-10 regular season last fall.

Leader Of The Pack – Bourque’s assist pushed his playoff point total to 23 (seven goals, 16 assists), tops among all skaters in the 2010 Calder Cup playoffs.

Postgame Quotebook – French on the series: “I think we have to appreciate that it was a tough series for us to play. We played against a team that was very committed defensively. They didn’t really care what they generated offensively. Some of our key players and our team in general had a hard time accepting how you have to play against these guys to be successful. Not many odd-man rushes against. They were committed to having three if not four guys back. They collapse inside the tops of the circles in defensive zone coverage. If you’re picking a strategy of how to play against us, it’s a pretty good one. And they were committed to that.”

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