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Bears Fall into 2-0 Series Hole

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
A Texas-Sized Hole – Travis Morin’s goal in the final minute of regulation gave the Texas Stars a 4-3 win over the Hershey Bears on Saturday night at Giant Center in Game 2 of the Calder Cup final series between the two teams. Morin’s goal sent the Bears to an uncharacteristic second straight loss on home ice.

“Well, we’re happy,” says Texas coach Glen Gulutzan. “These last two games [were decided by] one goal, one goal, either way. I thought both games could go either way and I think the whole series is going to play out like that.

“There’s a lot of hockey left. But obviously you like the position you’re in. But at the end of the day you’ve got to play every game as its own entity; it’ll take on its own life. That’s what we tell our guys. So Monday we’ll play another game and one thing we are sure of is we know it will probably be a tight one.”

With the series headed back to Texas for the next three games, Hershey must win two of those three road contests to send the set back to Giant Center for a potential Game 6 on June 14.

“Obviously, we won 60 games during the regular season,” points out Bears captain Bryan Helmer. “So we know how to win. It’s just a matter of finding a way. Give them credit; they’re playing really well and we haven’t found a way to beat them yet. But it takes four to win the series.

“Being down two, we’re very disappointed. But like I said, we didn’t win 60 games for nothing this season. We know how to win and guys believe. We just need to go into their building and getting it done.”

Hershey got off to somewhat of a dubious start. After some speedy backchecking prevented an early breakaway, the Bears were victimized by another break later in the game’s first minute. The Stars’ Aaron Gagnon broke behind the Bears’ top defensive pair of John Carlson and Karl Alzner, and he managed to push the puck through goaltender Michal Neuvirth to give the Stars an early advantage exactly one minute into the game.

Texas got a chance to add to that lead when it got its second power play of the night on a Francois Bouchard hooking call at 7:07 of the first. But Bears winger Steve Pinizzotto – the league’s leading shorthanded goal scorer during the regular season – executed a strip and steal at the Hershey blueline. He then skated the puck into the attack zone with Andrew Joudrey skating down the middle on a 2-on-1. Electing to shoot instead of pass, Pinizzotto blasted the puck past Stars goalie Matt Climie to even the game at 1-1.

Texas regained the lead on a fluky Garrett Stafford goal that bounced in off Helmer midway through the second, but the Bears answered back just 46 seconds later on Bouchard’s fourth of the playoffs, a shot from center point.

For the second time in as many games, the teams headed to the third all even. And for the second time in as many games, Texas took the lead early in the final frame. Mathieu Beaudoin finished off a Perttu Lindgren setup to give Texas a 3-2 lead at 3:18 of the third.

Hershey scored the equalizer at 10:44 of the third when Andrew Gordon scored his 11th on the put back of a Patrick Wellar point blast. The Bears had a golden opportunity to take the lead and even the series when the Stars took a pair of late penalties, the second of which was a double minor.

Not only were the Bears unable to capitalize on a 5-on-3 power play of 31 seconds in duration, the remaining portion of the double minor was vaporized when veteran Bears forward Boyd Kane was assessed a double minor of his own for a “spearing attempt” at 15:03.

Hershey killed off the Kane penalty, but the infraction altered momentum and Morin’s goal came just 11 seconds after Kane exited the box.

“It was a dumb play by me,” says Kane. “I was frustrated. The linesman caught me and I can’t be doing that.”

“I didn’t see it,” says French of the call on Kane. “I saw him turn over the puck. I didn’t see the result; the video doesn’t show it. The effect on the game was rather substantial. You go from having a 5-on-3 and then a double minor to having a double minor to kill off. It was a substantial momentum swing.”

Now Hershey must rally to preserve the best season in its long and storied history. No team in AHL history has won a Calder Cup final series after losing the first two on home ice.

“It’s not how you draw it up,” admits French, of the Bears dropping two straight at home to start the series. “It’s unconventional. My focus isn’t Game 3 and wins and losses. We took six penalties tonight and four of them were poor in nature; very undisciplined play. Two of their goals were the result of turnovers when our No. 1 key point was to get pucks deep and get them behind their [defense]. If they want to continue to make those errors, [Texas] will get to four [wins] faster than we will.

“I am confident if we learn a tough lesson in discipline. We had a good emotional level tonight and we played a lot harder, but at defining moments in the game we made poor decisions that cost us the game. I am confident, but at the same time those issues certainly have to be addressed.”

Biting the Hand That Once Fed Him – Morin’s game-winning goal came against the only other AHL team for which he once played and against the organization that drafted him.

A product of Minnesota State-Mankato, Morin was Washington’s ninth round (263rd overall) choice in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. He spent the last two seasons in the Washington organization, but played primarily for the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays. Morin got into five games with Hershey over the last two seasons, picking up a single assist.

Playing in his first full AHL season in 2009-10, Morin was second on the Stars with 21 goals and with 52 points during the regular season. He has four goals and 14 points in 20 Calder Cup playoff tilts this spring.

Road Warriors – After winning the final two games on the road in each of their previous two playoff series this spring, the Stars have taken two straight on the road to open this series. Texas has now won four straight road games and goes back to the Lone Star State with a stronghold on the series.

“They’re pretty high probably,” begins Helmer, “taking two games in here and going back home. The start of the game on Monday is going to be huge. I don’t think we’ve had a good start yet and that’s something I think Frenchy will bring up. We’re going to get focused for Monday.”

First Strike – For the first time in a dozen games, the Texas Stars scored the game’s first goal in Saturday’s Game 2. Gagnon’s early goal marked the first time Texas has scored the game’s first goal since Game 4 of the Stars’ second-round series with the Chicago Wolves. Texas rolled up an impressive 7-4 record during the 11 games in which they fell behind 1-0.

Uncharacteristic – Tonight marks the first time in 20 career Calder Cup playoff starts that Neuvirth has surrendered as many as four goals in a home playoff game.

Unlikely – The AHL’s most potent regular-season offense has generated just 55 shots on goal and four goals in the first 120 minutes of this series. Hershey has held the lead for just 5:32 in the first two games. Texas has frustrated and stymied the Bears’ vaunted offensive attack.

“Time of possession in offensive zone play is a good thing,” observes French. “I think we’ve got to attack seams a little bit more to maybe draw some more penalties and create some scoring chances. I thought at times in offensive zone play we would have it for 15 or 20 seconds and then throw it blindly into the slot area and turn it over. Maybe it’s not a fun way to play that we’re asking the guys, but it is an effective way to play. Until they clearly understand that, then we are going to struggle offensively.”

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