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Bears Exterminate Rats

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
Frederic Cassivi stopped 32 shots 
GLENS FALLS, N.Y. – There’s no rat problem here; no pesky, furry little vermin to cause a disturbance and run amok around the feet of the fearful. The Hershey Bears exterminated the Albany River Rats tonight, moving on to the AHL’s East Division finals by virtue of a 4-2 win over the Rats.

The Bears led 4-0 midway through the third before the plucky Rats staged a late comeback to cut the deficit in half.

“It’s probably a little natural,” said Bears coach Bruce Boudreau of his team’s temporary lapse in the third. “I think we expected them to quit at 4-0 but they didn’t. I know every team gives accolades to the other team, but they never quit. You’ve got to give them tons of credit for never quitting.”

Hershey gave Albany very little to feel good about in the game’s first 20 minutes. The Bears rolled four lines, and every unit was sharp and energized. The defense made quick, crisp exits and Hershey goaltender Frederic Cassivi was hardly tested.

Albany had two power play chances in the second half of the frame, but was unable to generate anything with either one. The Bears’ Dave Steckel was a big thorn in the Rats’ side on the second of those power plays. He almost single-handedly ragged off the first 30 seconds and then made a couple clears in the final ticks as the Bears killed off the penalty.

Half a minute after the second kill, the Rats committed a neutral zone turnover that resulted in three Bears getting behind the Albany defense simultaneously. Joey Tenute gained the line with a burst of speed, and never even thought of dishing to one of his wingers. He picked out the top left corner of the cage and snapped a sharp wrist shot over Tyler Weiman’s blocker pad to give the Bears a 1-0 lead at 16:27.

“I caught a break there,” said Tenute. “The goalie gave me a lot of the side. I saw it and I just shot for that side and it happened to go in. It was a boost to our team. I don’t know how it affected their team, but going into the first intermission with a one-goal lead was big.”

The River Rats started the second with sense of desperation. They fired nine shots on net in the first seven minutes of the middle period, and Hershey’s penalty killing prowess was needed again. The Bears took two more penalties in the first half of the second, giving Albany four straight power plays over a span of 19:21. But Cassivi and Co. combined to stymie the Rats.

“[Bears assistant coach] Bob Woods takes care of the [penalty killing],” said Bears left wing Quintin Laing. “We made some adjustments after Game 3 when they scored three power play goals against us, and I don’t think they adjusted to our adjustments. It just seemed to work out. We credit Woodsy for seeing that and making that adjustment. We just followed his game plan and it really worked. We figured that was the only way they could beat us tonight was on the power play. They got one, but I think our PK did a great job.”

Hershey gained a bit more breathing room late in the stanza. Albany turned the puck over at its own line, and Jakub Klepis scooped up the puck. He left a drop pass for Tomas Fleischmann, who quickly rifled a shot to the short side, again over Weiman’s blocker pad. With 2:44 remaining in the second, the Bears had a two-goal bulge.

With the two clubs playing 4-on-4 late in the second, Albany captain Keith Aucoin drew a five-minute major for high-sticking Hershey’s Jeff Schultz.

“It was just an unlucky play on his part,” said Schultz. “We were both going for the puck. He was trying to lift my stick and he just missed it. That was the key. A five-minute power play, you should score at least once. We were able to put a lot of pressure on them.”

The Bears moved the puck around well on the resulting 4-on-3 in the waning moments of the middle period, but were unable to add to their advantage before the second intermission.

Hershey came out and went for the jugular in the third. Scott Barney netted his third goal of the playoffs less than half a minute into the third, and Mike Green followed with his third (although it sure looked like Steckel scored the goal from upstairs) of the playoffs at 2:51, and the Bears seemed to have things well under control.

Albany bounced back, scoring twice in a span of 39 seconds midway through the third. Jakub Petruzalek ended Hershey’s string of 12 straight successful penalty kills when he scored on a rebound at 9:31, and Shane Willis tallied after a face-off win less than a minute later.

The Bears then buckled down and kept things largely under control. Albany missed a few strong scoring chances in the final minutes, but the Bears permitted only three shots on goal in the last 9:50 of the game.

“I think they had to realize how it was to win,” said Boudreau of his team. “Our team last year grew and grew as the playoffs went [on]. I think by the finals we were very much the better team. I think we’ll probably have at least a week off to rest wounded guys. I’m sure as wounded as they are, we’ve got as many guys with as many ice bags here. As important as it was last year, because we’re smaller [this year] I think it’s more important this year.”

Hershey will now await the winner of the series between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Norfolk. The Admirals won game 4 of that set on Wednesday, evening the series at 2-2. Game 5 is Friday in Norfolk and Game 6 is Sunday in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. If necessary, the Pens would host Game 7 on Tuesday.

On third period face-off difficulties:
“I decided to put Steckel out for every draw then. He lost one, but I think he won all of the ones on the left side. When you play and you get that adrenaline and when you feel that you’re hot, that’s they way they felt it. They had some great chances but I think the big guy saved us there. We had a 4-0 lead, but that leg save he made when it was 4-2 kept the momentum a little bit in our favor.”

On the Bears’ penalty killing:
“I think we’ve had good PK all year. We were almost 86% with scoring 24 [shorthanded] goals. We have a lot of confidence in the people who PK. We used six or seven different guys tonight. We have a lot of confidence in them and they did a great job.”

On the Aucoin major:
“Well he got hit I’d say 10 seconds before, and the opportunity for him to hit somebody came right away. And when you’re a little ticked off, he must have got his stick up a little high. I didn’t see what happened.”

On the importance of getting the game’s first goal:
“I think it was a major thing. I believe we had to make them believe that they couldn’t beat us. As much as they were saying they could and that they were going to win it in seven [games], we had to make them believe that ‘Oh no, here we go again’ type thing. When Freddie was there to make the big save when he had to, it’s a tough row to hoe. They’re going, ‘Oh man, we just can’t score.’ Sometimes you give a good team too many chances and they’re going to come back and eventually win.”

On the possibility of pre-scouting the Bears’ next opponent in person:
“If the opportunity is there, I’ll take it. I hope it goes 10 games.”

On the second goal:
“They won the face-off and Willis shot it right away. It went through four bodies and it went through me.”

On whether he might have been thinking of Game 5 of the conference finals vs. Portland last spring:
“I try not to think about that. When you start thinking about stuff like that, past games, that’s when bad things will start happening. Just try to shut the door once they scored two goals. You have to assume that even though they’re down 4-0 they’re not going to give up. They’re going to have desperation and that’s what they did. They got a couple goals and got some momentum, but fortunately, it didn’t go further than that.”

On Hershey killing four straight penalties:
“In a game like that when they’re playing for their lives, the longer you can keep them off the board and get a lead, I think the better it is for you. We kept them off the board for a while and we scored some goals. Even though it was pretty tough at the end, if you think about it a 4-0 lead with 11 minutes left is where you want to be in a game like that.”

On how this team is coming together as compared to last year’s team:
“It’s tough for me to say. I think we’re coming together as it’s going. We’re playing a little bit better. We’re very tight as a group, and we have a very good bunch of gentlemen here on the team. I don’t really want to compare to last year too much. I think we’ve done enough of that. Last year was last year. We have to keep going as a team on the ice and off the ice as far as playoffs go.”

On the defense’s play:
“The first period we wanted to put a doubt in their mind and let them know it was going to be a tough game for them. We weren’t going to give them those easy chances they had in some previous games. All six of us played great. We were finishing checks, forcing them to dump it in and to go back [to their own end] and get it all the time.”

On the prospects of having a week off:
“It’s nice to go rest your bumps and bruises, but you can also bond with your teammates. For myself, there are a lot of new guys I’m still not quite familiar with. I think it gives us time to rest, but we’ve still got to have those good hard practices that we’re used to having.”

On the game:
“I think at the start of the game we were really playing well and playing our system. And then in the second period we kind of sat back and played more defensively instead of keep going. And then they scored those two goals and kind of put us in a tough position. We know that they’re capable of scoring goals. They don’t stop. But on the bench the coaches did a great job of keeping us under control and not panicking. We knew that we were going to win.”

On his goal, and whether he thought Steckel scored it:
“I just got the pass across and noticed that the close side post was open. I took a shot and I didn’t see it after that exactly. All I know is that Chris Bourque fed it across. He made a nice play to keep it in.”

On whether he feels like his own personal game is rounding into form:
“Yeah, absolutely. I think coming down here at the end of the year and trying to get comfortable, the regular season is totally different from the playoffs. I feel now I’m starting to get comfortable with the team and the guys again and feel like I can contribute and work towards getting better every game.”

On the Bears’ third period letdown:
“For whatever reason, there might have been a letdown for a minute there. The crowd got into it a bit, and it gave them some life. But we played it calm and cool and we got back to doing what we had been doing the whole game, getting it in, our defenseman stepping up on their players and not allowing them to get in. We finished it up the way we wanted to.”

On whether they can use the rest that looms before the next round:
“Yeah, for sure. Having some experience from the playoffs, we had a lot of rest last year in between rounds and I think that worked to our advantage. Whenever you can finish off a team as soon as possible, that’s your goal obviously. We got some guys who are banged up. A lot of guys paid the price, and [the rest] is good.”

On whether he might prefer to face his former Norfolk teammates in the next round:
“No, I don’t prefer either team. Either way it’s going to be a tough series. Whoever we get, it’s going to be rough and tough and it’s going to be a great series.”

Lineup – Hershey went with the same bunch as in Game 4. Albany made wholesale changes, scratching Mike Angelidis, Antti Laaksonen and Kirk MacDonald. The Rats installed David Gove, Chris Stewart and Bobby Hughes in their stead. The game marked the pro debut of the 19-year-old Hughes, Carolina’s fourth-round (123rd overall) choice in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.

The Killers – Hershey killed off a dozen successive shorthanded situations before Petruzalek’s goal. The Bears allowed five power play goals in the series, but three of those came in a 6-5 Game 3 victory. Hershey killed 24 of 29 (82.8%) Albany power plays in the series.

Powering Up – For the fifth consecutive game, the Bears scored at least one power play goal. Hershey was 2-for-7 with the extra man on Wednesday, and it went 9-for-32 (28.1%) with the extra man in the series. The Bears’ power play efficiency rate is currently the league’s best.

The Bears had at least two power play goals in four of the five games in this series, and all four game-winners came on the power play.

Brick Wall – Cassivi stopped 78 of the last 83 shots (.940 save pct.) he faced in the series, covering a span of eight periods.

Breathing Room – During the first four games (a span of 240:10) of the series, Hershey had as much as a two-goal lead for a grand total of just 17:50. The Bears never led any game by as many as three goals until Barney’s third period goal tonight. Hershey spent more time (22:44) with a lead of two or more goals in Wednesday’s Game 5 than it had for the entire series combined prior to this evening.

Leader of the Pack – Green leads the AHL with three power play goals in the playoffs.

Four Score – With his game-winner in Game 5, Barney joined Kyle Wilson, Chris Bourque and Green as the fourth different Bear to net a game-winning goal in the 2007 Calder Cup playoffs.

Three is the Magic Number – With his third goal of the playoffs, Tenute now has one more than he netted in 19 postseason games in 2006. He also became the fifth different Bear to score the team’s first goal of the game in the playoffs. Green’s three playoff strikes match his total from 21 playoff tilts in 2006.

On the Board – Bears blueliner Tyler Sloan picked up a pair of assists, his first multi-point game with the Bears. He became the 13th different Bear to record a point in the series.

Diminishing Returns – The Glens Falls Civic Center drew 3,815 for Sunday’s Game 3, 2,279 for Monday’s Game 4 and just 1,637 for Wednesday’s Game 6.

Worth Noting – Albany head coach Tom Rowe and assistant coach Joe Sacco did not come onto the ice for the postgame handshake line.

1. Green – Quickly rounding into the steady, two-way defenseman who was routinely among the best players on the ice during last year’s playoff run.  All six Bears defenders had nights to be proud of, but we’ll go with Green here.

2. Laing – The entire corps of Bears penalty killers deserves kudos for their work tonight, but Laing blocked at least three shots, sprawling out and giving up his body on all three. He had a very strong series, doing

3. Cassivi – It often comes back to the big man, and it did tonight. He filled the net well for the first 40-plus minutes, giving the Rats little or nothing at which to shoot. When Albany threatened to make a game of it late,

Honorable Mention – Steckel was also a penalty killing monster and he appeared to have scored the Bears’ fourth goal from upstairs. Also won some big draws in the defensive zone late. Fleischmann’s goal was a deflater, and he also had an assist. Bourque was a highly charged buzzsaw all over the rink at both ends of the ice. Schultz drew the key major penalty on Aucoin and was very strong with his stick and his reads all night. Petruzalek never stopped skating for the Rats.

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