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Bears Get Ready for Penguins

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
For the second straight spring, the Hershey Bears will need to get past the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in order to emerge from the East Division and play for the AHL’s Eastern Conference championship. The Bears swept through the Baby Pens in four straight last spring, but few are predicting a sweep this time around.

Hershey and WBS are the two big trees left standing after a regular season in which three East Division clubs finished with at least 108 points. The Bears took out the Albany River Rats in five games while the Pens needed six to dispose of the Norfolk Admirals.

Game 1 of the East Division finals series is Wednesday at Giant Center in Hershey. The Bears will host Game 2 on Friday night before the series shifts to Wachovia Arena in Wilkes-Barre for Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4 on May 9. If necessary, Game 5 would be at Giant Center on May 11 and Game 6 would be back in Wilkes-Barre on May 12. If a seventh game is required it would be played at Giant Center on May 14.

Hershey outscored the Pens by a combined 15-5 in last spring’s series sweep. Four of the Pens’ goals in that series came in Game 1; Hershey goaltender Frederic Cassivi blanked the Pens twice in the final three games of the set.

The Bears took six of the 10 meetings between the two teams this season, with each team taking a decision in overtime. Hershey outscored the Pens 35-27 during the season, including 9-2 in the last two games. With the East Division title still on the line in the season’s final weekend, Hershey went into Wilkes-Barre and blasted the Pens for five first period goals on its way to a 6-1 statement win, the game that clinched the division title.

Cassivi heated up at the end of the Albany series, stopping 78 of the last 83 shots he saw in the opening round series. That translates to a .940 save pct. in eight periods of play.

Despite missing injured blueliner Dean Arsene, the Bears’ defense has been mostly solid. Hershey has permitted just under 30 shots a game. The Bears kept Albany from establishing a forecheck in most games, and were good at letting Cassivi get a good view of the pucks headed his way. Several of the goals Hershey did allow came on rebounds, so perhaps the Bears blueline corps could be a bit quicker and more diligent at clearing the area after Cassivi has made the initial stop. The Bears are hopeful that Arsene may be able to return to the ice before the conclusion of the series with the Penguins.

Hershey defenseman Mike Green has three goals, all on the power play, and five points to lead Bears blueliners in scoring. Green is the only Hershey defenseman to find the back of the net in the 2007 playoffs.

Hershey’s top playoff point-getters are Scott Barney (three goals, six points) and Kyle Wilson (two goals, six points), both of whom are tied for 12th in the Calder Cup playoff scoring chase. Green and Joey Tenute are tied with Barney for the team lead in goals. Jakub Klepis leads the Bears with five assists in the five games.

Bears coach Bruce Boudreau has been very adept at mixing his lines and moving players in and out of his deep postseason lineup. He has been able to get contributions from every player. Those who haven’t contributed to the team’s attack have blocked shots, killed penalties, backchecked diligently and/or played a strong physical game. And then there’s center Dave Steckel, who has done all of those things while chipping in with a pair of goals and four points.

The Bears boasted seven 20-goal scorers during the regular season. Hershey’s deep and balanced attack should enable it to avoid lengthy scoring droughts. If Cassivi is on and the Bears’ blueline holds firm, Wilkes-Barre Scranton will have a tough row to hoe.

Although Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers (22-12-3, 2.47 GAA, .908 save pct.) handled the lion’s share of the netminding chores for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton during the regular season, journeyman Nolan Schaefer has started all six Pens playoff games to date.

The 27-year-old Schaefer (brother of Senators forward Peter Schaefer) has played for three different AHL clubs this season. He was 14-16-0-3 overall during the regular season.

In defenseman Micki Dupont (four goals, nine points) and center Robert Nilsson (two goals, nine points), the Pens have the top two playoff scorers among the eight remaining teams going into the second round of the Calder Cup tournament. Three of Dupont’s goals have come on the power play, and six of Nilsson’s seven helpers have come while WBS enjoyed the man advantage.

Nilsson was a late-season boon for the Penguins. He came to Edmonton from the Islanders as part of the payment for left wing Ryan Smyth in one of the biggest deals of the NHL’s trade deadline day on Feb. 27. As a result of the swap, Nilsson’s AHL address changed from Bridgeport to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Boudreau is likely to match Steckel’s line against the Nilsson-Connor James-Marc-Antoine Pouliot trio. The Penguins have been getting a lot of scoring from a diverse group of players in the playoffs, and they’ll need that to continue if they’re to come out of the East.

Jonathan Filewich led the Pens with 30 goals during the season, and he netted three against the Admrials. With 24 goals, Kyle Brodziak was WBS’s only other 20-goal man in 2006-07. He had a goal and four points in the opening round.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Hershey were the two highest scoring teams in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs. The Pens averaged 3.67 goals per game while the Bears netted 3.6 tallies per contest. Not coincidentally, the Pens and Bears are also the top two teams in the league in terms of postseason power play prowess. The Pens have clicked on 31.6% of their extra-man chances while Hershey is at 29%.

Hershey holds a slight postseason penalty killing edge with a kill rate of 82.8% to WBS’s 80%.

The Penguins are currently playing without Tyler Kennedy (upper body) and Rob Schremp (knee).

The winner of the Bears-Pens series will take on the winner of the Manchester-Providence series. Providence rallied to defeat Hartford in a seven-game set, joining the 1983 Maine Mariners and the 1996 Portland Pirates as the only three teams in AHL history to win games six and seven on the road.

Providence earned a 6-3 road win over Manchester on Tuesday night to take a 1-0 lead over the Monarchs in the Atlantic Division final series.

Notes: For the second straight series, Hershey will face a shared affiliate. Albany’s roster was made up of prospects from the Carolina and Colorado organizations. The Pittsburgh Penguins are the primary suppliers of talent for WBS, but a handful of the Baby Pens belong to the Edmonton organization … Nine different Bears scored in Hershey’s series with Albany. Fourteen different Penguins scored during the team’s first round series with Norfolk.

Connections: Schaefer played three games with Hershey earlier this season. He was on loan from the San Jose Sharks’ organization at the time. Schaefer went from San Jose to Pittsburgh in a deadline day deal … Fehr and WBS’s Ryan Stone were linemates with the WHL Brandon Wheat Kings … Hershey’s Tim Wedderburn and WBS’s jonathan Filewich were junior teammates at Prince George of the WHL … Barney and Pens’ defenseman Matt Carkner were junior teammates at Petersborough of the OHL … The Pens’ Kyle Brodziak played junior hockey at Moose Jaw with Washington’s Brian Sutherby and Brooks Laich and Hershey’s Tomas Fleischmann and Deryk Engelland … The Bears’ Matt Hendricks played along with WBS’s Joe Jensen at St. Cloud St. … Dupont played on the 2001 Saint John Flames Calder Cup championship team. Among his teammates there were current Cap Chris Clark and former Caps Rico Fata. Martin Brochu, Benoit Gratton, Miika Elomo and Doug Doull. Former Bear Jared Aulin and current Capital Shaone Morrisonn were among Dupont’s junior teammates with the Kamloops Blazers. Before he returned to North America this season, Dupont played the previous three seasons with the Berlin Polar Bears in the German league. Among his teammates there were Olie Kolzig and former Caps Stefan Ustorf and Yvon Corriveau … Pens defenseman Tom Gilbert played college hockey with Hershey’s Andrew Joudrey at U. of Wisconsin.

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