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Bears Edge Pens 5-4, Take 1-0 Series Lead

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
WILKES-BARRE, Pa – Colin Forbes scored a pair of power play goals to help the Hershey Bears escape with a 5-4 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in Game 1 of the East Division finals of the Calder Cup playoffs on Thursday.

Forbes’ first goal went in off his mouth, opening a wound that required three stitches to close.

“Best stitches I’ve ever taken,” he exuded after the game.

When we last left the Bears some nine days ago, they were fresh off a first-round sweep of the Norfolk Admirals in the Calder Cup playoffs. The Bears showed no ill effects from the long layoff; they jumped out to a 4-0 second period lead before the Penguins stormed back to turn the game into a tight, hard-hitting thriller.

“We were on our heels a little bit,” noted Bears coach Bruce Boudreau after the game. “[Bears goaltender] Freddie [Cassivi] will tell you he didn’t have the best game in the world, but when you’re lucky enough to win when your goaltender isn’t your best player, that’s a great benefit.”

The Bears’ Dave Steckel had the game’s first strong scoring chance. With the Bears playing a man short early in the first period, Steckel forced a turnover in the neutral zone and sailed in alone on a breakaway. Before he could get a shot off, however, he was poke-checked by Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

Penalty killing plagued the Bears a bit in the Norfolk series, but Hershey handled Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s power play chances with aplomb in the early going of Thursday night’s game. Hershey killed off the first five Penguin power plays easily, allowing just four shots on goal in the process.

The Penguins killed off the first Hershey power play of the night without incident, but ran into trouble with Krys Kolanos off for hooking in the final two minutes of the first. Mike Green’s point shot hit traffic in front, and Kris Beech scooped up the loose puck to fire a follow-up shot. Fleury got a piece of Beech’s bid, but the rebound caromed off Forbes’ mouth and into the cage.

The Bears went on another power play less than a minute later when the Penguins’ Ryan Stone was whistled for interference. Hershey outshot the Penguins 13-4 in the first, and had 1:33 of carryover power play time with which to work at the start of the second period. Just one second before Stone’s penalty expired, Forbes struck again. He put a rebound of a Graham Mink shot past Fleury from nearly the same location from which he had tallied his first goal.

The Bears kept buzzing the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton net, looking for more. Just 1:03 after Forbes made it 2-0, Eric Fehr powered his way around the Penguins net and left the puck near the post to Fleury’s left. Boyd Kane pounced on it and fired it home to give Hershey a 3-0 lead.

Just before the nine-minute mark of the middle frame, the Bears struck again. Hershey’s Boyd Gordon forced a neutral zone turnover and carried into the Penguins’ zone. He fired a seemingly harmless shot on goal, but Fleury did not corral the rebound. It went right to Steckel, who followed Gordon into the zone, drove the net and drilled it in for his fourth goal of the playoffs.

After the Bears killed off a Mink boarding minor, they had a chance to fatten the lead when former Bear Dennis Bonvie was called for hooking at 15:26. But rather than Hershey putting the game away, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton seized momentum of the contest.

Just 23 seconds after Bonvie was seated, Stone made a great play to get the Penguins on the board. He took the puck down the right wing boards and cut toward the net. After making the defender commit, he faked a shot and fed a perfect pass to Maxime Talbot, who was driving the slot with speed. Talbot one-timed it past Cassivi to cut the Bears lead to 4-1.

The Wachovia Arena crowd of 6,465 had been morose, but suddenly it had life.

“I think the shorthanded goal got the crowd back into it,” said Beech afterwards. “I know from experience when this crowd gets going, the team starts to get going behind it. And that’s what happened. But I think we did a good job of staying composed and we tried to stick to our game plan.”

Twenty-five seconds after Talbot’s tally, the Penguins’ Daniel Carcillo leveled Cassivi and went off for goaltender interference, giving the Bears a two-man advantage for 1:12. Soon after Carcillo’s minor began, Wilkes-Barre Scranton cleared the zone. Hershey’s Lawrence Nycholat went back to his own end in pursuit of the puck with Stone close behind. The two got tangled up just inside the Hershey line with Nycholat losing his footing. Stone collected the puck and drifted down low, launching a shot from a bad angle. The puck trickled through Cassivi and landed in the net. The rare 3-on-5 goal pulled the Pens to within a pair with 3:19 left in the second period.

Through the first two periods, the Bears had permitted just five even strength shots on goal.

The Penguins closed to within a goal when Talbot beat Cassivi with a wrist shot high to the glove side at 4:45 of the third. With the Penguins and their fans back into the game, it figured that the final 15 minutes would be entertaining and exciting, and they were. Talbot’s third period goal was the first even-strength tally surrendered by the Bears in 206:11, dating back to Game 2 of the Norfolk series.

Just under seven minutes into the final frame, Bonvie went back hard on an icing touch-up, trying to avoid a whistle against his team. Hershey’s Martin Wilde beat him to the puck, causing the whistle, but Bonvie thundered into Wilde anyway, drawing a minor for boarding and an additional minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. Although Hershey was able to muster only one shot on goal during the ensuing four-minute power play, it was four minutes of a one-goal game in which the Pens weren’t able to mount anything in the way of an attack, either.

“Whether we had any chances to score, it took away their chances to score,” noted Boudreau. “And I think it gave Freddie a chance to relax and calm down. His nerves were a little flustered I think after [the third goal]. It’s an emotional game.”

Midway through the third, the Bears added a much-needed goal. Hershey won a faceoff in the offensive zone and Fehr managed to score what would prove to be the game-winner.

“We won the draw, and Lawrence Nycholat put a shot on net,” Fehr recalled. “We had good net-front presence with [Brooks] Laich and Kane, and the puck slipped by both of them. I went around Fleury and took two whacks at it and managed to put it in.”

Less than a minute after Fehr’s goal, the game took another turn. Bears blueliner Jakub Cutta dropped a Penguin in front of Cassivi after the whistle, drawing a roughing minor. Less than a minute later, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Jonathan Filewich made it a one-goal game again when he parked outside the crease to Cassivi’s right and deflected a point shot past the Bears’ goaltender. With 6:52 left, it was still anyone’s game.

Seconds after Filewich’s tally, Green took a puck to the face and had to leave the game, forcing the Bears to play the final six-plus minutes without one of their top defensemen. Cassivi made a good stop on Carcillo with about five minutes left to preserve the Bears’ slim advantage.

With just under two minutes left, the Penguins’ Ryan Whitney took a necessary holding call, necessary to stop Fehr from netting his second goal of the night. That infraction also prevented the Pens from mounting a late threat to tie the game; the Bears won the ensuing faceoff and nimbly moved the puck around the offensive zone to kill most of the remaining time on the clock.

By the time the Penguins were able to get Fleury off the ice in favor of an extra attacker, precious few seconds remained and the Bears were able to skate off with a 5-4 win and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Boudreau on Fehr’s work to get what proved to be the game-winning goal: “He did a fabulous job. I thought Eric had a real good game. I thought he would have had another one, too. If they didn’t hold the stick there at the end … it was a great penalty by them and a good call by the ref at that point, because it would have been in the net again. We got great contributions from a lot of guys tonight.”

Boudreau on how taxing the game was for him: “I almost lost weight, that’s how taxing it was. You have the game in the bag at 4-0 and the next thing you now it’s 4-3. And with the crowd noise, it’s hard to focus. I was trying to be unemotional behind the bench and just think of what I had to do. I think if you get involved with the crowd and everything, all hell can break lose.”

Boudreau on the Bears’ play in front of their net: “We did a great job of denying the second shots. For the most part, they didn’t really have a lot of them. They attack the net better than any team we play. We were well aware of their ability to attack the net and our defense did a yeoman’s job in denying them.”

Forbes on filling in for Fleischmann and scoring twice: “That’s what playoffs are all about, guys stepping up when other guys are out. I had a chance to play with Beecher and Minker and those guys are two great players. They’re hot. I just wanted to fill in for [Fleischmann] until he gets back. I was just fortunate that the first goal went off my mouth. The puck seemed to be bouncing my way tonight, on a couple chances here and there. It was nice.”

Beech on playing playoff hockey in the rink he formerly called home: “I was having a lot of fun out there. It was a good time. It was different being on the other side of the ice and with the crowd, it was really interesting being on the other side. But I had fun with it and it was a good game.”

Beech on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defense: “They play a very solid game. They don’t try to do many fancy things back there. They get the puck out and they really try to limit your space. They are big and strong, but for me, I look at that as a challenge. It’s definitely going to be a different series than Norfolk.”

Fehr on his line’s play: “We know what our line needs to do to be successful. We’ve got to try to work their defense and centers down low and just bring pucks to the net like we did on [Boyd Kane’s] goal. That’s the style of game we have to play to be successful and help our team.”

Fehr on never having enough goals: “You can never sit back and just watch the game. You’ve got to make sure you’re into it at all times. Crazy things happen, especially when fans like that get behind a team.”

No Flash – Left wing Tomas Fleischmann, part of Hershey’s hottest line in the team’s first-round sweep of Norfolk, was a medical scratch for Thursday night’s Game 2. After participating in the pre-game warm-ups, Fleischmann sat out because of an undisclosed injury.

Jakub Klepis, who missed the final three games of the Norfolk series, was back in the lineup and Jared Aulin was scratched. Owen Fussey was inserted into the Hershey lineup for Game 1 against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, seeing his first action of the playoffs. Fussey moved onto the left side of the team’s checking line alongside Steckel and Gordon. Forbes moved up to take Fleischmann’s spot on the line with Mink and Beech and Kane moved into Forbes’ vacated spot on the left side of Brooks Laich and Fehr. Klepis skated with Joey Tenute and Louis Robitaille.

Hot Between the Pipes – Heading into Thursday night’s Calder Cup playoff action, Penguins netminder Dany Sabourin and Bears goaltender Freddie Cassivi both ranked among the AHL’s top five in playoff goals against average. Sabourin posted a 1.73 GAA in four first-round starts, good for third in the league. Cassivi’s 2.06 GAA ranked fifth among AHL playoff netminders. Sabourin’s .934 save pct. was fourth while Cassivi’s .932 was seventh best.

Sabourin started Games 1, 3, 4 and 5 in the Penguins’ first-round series with Bridgeport; it would not be surprising to see him back between the pipes for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for Game 2 against the Bears on Saturday night.

Positive Touch – Hershey defenseman Lawrence Nycholat’s plus-6 defensive rating was tied for the top spot among all AHL defensemen in the playoffs going into Thursday night’s games. Hartford’s Daniel Girardi was also a plus-6, but had played in twice as many games (eight) as Nycholat. Hershey’s Mark Wotton was tied for third on that list at plus-5.

Streaking – Several players kept point streaks going in Thursday night’s Game 1. Steckel’s second period goal stretched his scoring streak to five consecutive games (four goals, two assists). Beech picked up a pair of assists in Game 1; he is the other Bear who has scored in all five postseason games (three goals, five assists). Mink has scored in four straight (four goals, three assists).

With a goal and an assist on Thursday, Fehr pushed his scoring streak to three straight games (two goals, two assists). Kane (one goal, three assists), Laich (two goals, three assists) and Gordon (two goals, two assists) have also scored in three straight contests.

For the Penguins, Talbot has scored in seven straight games (three goals, six assists), Stone has picked up a point in six straight (four goals, five assists) and Filewich has scored in five consecutive games (four goals, four assists).

Building Block – In its five regular season games at Wachovia Arena, Hershey was outscored by a combined 22-7.

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