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Bears Drop Game 1, 2-1

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Unfamiliar Territory – The Hershey Bears dropped Game 1 of their 2010 Calder Cup final series with the Texas Stars by a 2-1 score at Giant Center on Thursday night. The loss puts the Bears behind in a series for the first time in the 2010 playoffs. Texas leads 1-0 with Game 2 on tap for Saturday at Giant Center.

“There is still a lot of confidence in the room but obviously we’ve got to rebound and play a better 60-minute game and probably a smarter, more intelligent game in Game 2,” says Bears coach Mark French.

Hershey recorded the game’s first shot on goal in the opening seconds but needed 16 minutes to notch its second. Texas was very effective at getting into shooting lanes and blocking Bears bids; the Stars likely blocked as many or more shots than Hershey got on goal for the night (27).

“It’s a frustrating time for a team that shoots the puck a lot and gets a lot of opportunities when they’re blocked and it’s tough to get second chances,” says Bears winger Andrew Gordon. “That’s frustrating. We’re dangerous and we’ve scored three or four goals when we shoot 30-plus pucks, and with them blocking probably nine or 10 grade A chances, it’s stifling.”

“There are no secrets here when you get to this point,” says Stars coach Glen Gulutzan. “The defense has always been the anchor of our team, our goalies and defense. Those D play hard in front of [goaltender Matt Climie] and get in the way of a lot of shots as you [saw] tonight, and make it a little easier.”

The Stars had both power play chances in the first frame, failing to record as much as a shot on goal on the first extra-man chance.

Texas fired five times on their second power play bid, but the Stars’ best chance to get on the board first came just after the second power play expired. Karl Alzner’s breakout pass was picked off, and a quick pass isolated Jamie Benn down low in a one-on-one situation with Bears goaltender Michal Neuvirth. Neuvirth stayed with the sniper, making the stop while pushing the rebound into the corner.

Texas owned a 12-4 advantage in shots on goal after the first period.

Hershey drew first blood early in the second when Francois Bouchard carved around the Texas defense down low, skated through the slot and tucked the puck behind Stars’ netminder Matt Climie.

“It was a nice breakout by [Patriclk McNeill] and it was a nice pass by [Mathieu Perreault] to get the zone entry,” says Bouchard. “It was a nice pass behind the D and I just cut in and put it in.”

The lead last just over five minutes.

The Stars’ Greg Rallo evened the score at 1-1 midway through the tilt when he used Hershey defenseman Karl Alzner as a screen to rifle a high wrister past Neuvirth’s glove hand. The puck caromed off the corssbar and into the cage.

Just as he had done in the first, Neuvirth made a strong save in the waning seconds of the second to preserve the tie.

Hershey tried to apply some offensive pressure early in the third, but a turnover near the Texas line resulted in a Stars rush in the other direction. Chris Borque sped back on the backcheck after his pass was picked off, but when he went down, Scott McCulloch was one-on-one with Neuvirth. The Texas left wing pushed a backhander between the pads of the Bears goaltender for what would prove to be the game-winning goal.

“It was a bit of a high-roll play with Chris Bourque and Sean Collins,” says French. “It certainly didn’t work out the right way. It gave them a break. [McCulloch] made a nice play on the 2-on-1 to get the puck by [Bourque] and he made a nice play on the goal.

“We’re a team in offensive zone play where we like to generate. That might have been a little bit high-risk at the time but he made a nice play and you’ve got to tip your cap to the play that was made.”

Long Layoff – For the Bears, Game 1 was the first in 11 days after they had dispatched Manchester in six games in the Eastern Conference final.

“We’re not going to make that as an excuse,” says French. “Were we good in the first period? No. But we wont look at that. I thought we got better as the game went on. But we need to be better for 60 minutes.”

For the Stars, their seven-day layoff after consecutive seven-game series was a blessing.

“We played two seven-game series and we were bumped and bruised,” says Gulutzan. “Those extra couple of days before this series started certainly gave us some time to heal up and get some rest and kind of regroup. I think if we would have started right away, it would have been tough for us. Those couple days were beneficial for us after 14 games.”

Home Loss – The defeat was Hershey’s first on home ice during the postseason. The Bears are now 8-1 at Giant Center in the playoffs and they’ve won 37 of their last 39 at home dating back to November.

“You saw what their strengths are,” says French of the Stars. “Certainly, they are a strong defensive team and it helps that they’ve got good size. I thought we had some opportunities at times with offensive zone play where our speed was pretty good. They probably are what we were expecting them to be and we’ve got to do a better job counteracting that.”

Falling Behind – Thursday’s game was the 11th straight game in which Texas surrendered the game’s first goal. The Stars are now an impressive 7-4 in those contests.

“We’ve come from behind a lot here [in the playoffs],” says Gulutzan. “I don’t think we’ve scored the first goal since Game 4 of the Chicago series. That 2-1 goal makes it a little easier. It allows you to play your game. We’re a defensive team first and it plays to your strength. If you’re always chasing, then you’ve got to take chances. It was important for us to get the lead.”

Getting the lead in the game also enabled the Stars to get the lead in the series.

“I think that helps,” admits Gulutzan. “We know these series can be long and they’re hard. It’s just one game but I think psychologically there has to be a little part of every player’s brain especially after the year that Hershey’s had and the talk of the league. There was probably a little bit of self-doubt somewhere in there and I think that helps alleviate that and put you on a field where you feel you can battle here and we have to battle for seven games.”

Quote of the Night – French on whether he thought his team waited a little bit too long to shoot the puck at times: “Yeah, I think so, especially in the first period. We seemed to get some opportunities where we dropped the puck into scoring areas but were trying to be too cute and make that one more pass instead of one less pass and one more shot.  They blocked a lot of shots but with blocks, the longer you wait, the more indecisive you are to shoot, the more tendency they are to get blocked and get closer to the guy. We didn’t have a real good shoot mentality, shot and drive mentality and we’ll need to improve that in Game 2.”

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