“I’m glad to get that one over with,” said Bears bench boss Bruce Boudreau, after winning a first-round playoff series for the first time since 2000. “Even my kids were saying, ‘It’s about time you won one.’ It’s feeling pretty good. Obviously, the team played really good – especially five-on-five – in the series. I think we learned a lot in the last five minutes. We were a little nervous and tense once we made it 3-1 and they kept coming at us.”
With the win, the Bears eliminated the Admirals in the East Division semifinal series of the Calder Cup playoffs. Hershey now waits to learn the identity of its next foe, the winner of the semifinal series between the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. After the Penguins’ 1-0 win on Tuesday, that series is knotted at 2-2. Game 5 is Wednesday in Wilkes-Barre; Game 6 is Friday in Bridgeport. If a Game 7 is necessary, it would be played on Saturday night in Wilkes-Barre.
Norfolk scored nine goals in the four games, seven of them on the power play. Hershey surrendered only two even strength goals in the series and none in the final 161:26 of the series.
“We’ll take that into next series,” said Cassivi. “We play good five-on-five hockey. Now we just need to cut down on power play goals.”
The Bears had a chance to get their foot on Norfolk’s throat early in Tuesday’s tilt. Not having the benefit of the last line change, Norfolk attempted to do a quick change on the fly immediately after the opening faceoff. But the exchange got botched and the Ads were assessed a bench minor for too many men on the ice just 11 seconds in. Norfolk netminder Adam Munro made a nice stop on Hershey’s Brooks Laich
at the left post to quell the lone threat on that man advantage for the Bears.
Half a minute after Norfolk killed that penalty, Hershey drew first blood for the third time in the four games. With Boyd Kane setting a screen in front of Munro, Boyd Gordon slid a low shot around the traffic jam and cleanly into the far side of the net.
Although they did not score in the first, the line of Kris Beech between Tomas Fleischmann and Graham Mink continued to vex the Admirals. The trio was responsible for drawing two penalties that led to Hershey’s second and third power plays of the first period.
“That was part of our game plan, to get down low and cycle,” said Boudreau afterwards, when asked about his big forwards’ ability to dominate down low in the offensive zone. “We thought with [5-foot-9 Martin] St. Pierre and [5-foot-11 Mark] Cullen as their centers and even [5-foot-10 Eric] Meloche, that our big centers would be hard to contain down low, and if we cycled, we would draw penalties.
“Our forwards are pretty big and pretty strong, and they did just that. When the other team is killing 13 or 14 or 16 minutes in penalties a game, it’s hard for them to come back and win. That was our whole game plan, and that’s what we did on Saturday night, too. The longer [Saturday’s double-OT Game 3] game went, we thought it was better for us because they were very tired.”
The Bears nursed their one-goal lead into the period’s final minute when Hershey’s Dean Arsene was sent off for interference. As the final seconds of the period ticked away, Cassivi made a strong save on a point blank shot from Norfolk’s Nathan Barrett. Then Bears defenseman Mark Wotton stopped a Norfolk shot with his stick just as it was about to cross the goal line. Although they dodged those two bullets, the Bears could not elude the third. Ex-Bear Carl Corazzini tied the game with 9.5 seconds left in the period, zipping a wrist shot through Cassivi from the left circle.
As he has done throughout the series, Hershey left winger Louis Robitaille incurred the wrath of the Adimrals just over four minutes into the second period. After a whistle in the Norfolk end, Meloche couldn’t resist taking an extra shot at Robitaille, who was felled by the slash. Meloche then leaned down to administer a gloved punch to Robitaille’s head, a move that led to the gloves coming off both players. A spirited scrap ensued, but no power play resulted from the multiple infractions.
The Bears got the upper hand just over eight minutes into the second period. Hershey’s Dave Steckel scooped up a loose puck in the neutral zone, gained the line and left a drop pass for Gordon. Gordon’s shot was gloved down by Munro, but the faceoff came to the left of the Norfolk netminder. Beech won the draw back to Martin Wilde at the point. Wilde dished to Fleischmann on the half-wall, and the winger fired a perfect cross-ice pass to Mink, whose one-timer hit the twine as Munro was sliding over, too late. The play took all of five seconds, and four of the five Bears’ skaters on the ice at the time touched the puck in the process.
Two minutes later, the Bears missed a chance to pad their lead on an odd-man break. Gordon slid a pass to Steckel down low, but the Bears’ center was too deep to get a shot on the yawning net. Hershey outshot Norfolk 8-1 over the first 10:10 of the second frame.
Just over a minute into the third, the Bears had another chance to add an insurance tally when Mink threaded a sharp centering pass to Fleischmann from behind the net. But the winger’s one-timer went off the heel of his blade and trickled harmlessly to the corner.
The Beech line drew its third power play of the night when Norfolk’s James Wisniewski hooked Mink from behind to prevent a strong scoring chance off a Beech setup from behind the Norfolk net. Just after the Admirals killed that penalty, Hershey went shorthanded. The Bears killed off the penalty without permitting so much as a shot on goal.
Norfolk’s Brandon Bochenski’s made a bid for the equalizer just after the 11-minute mark when he gained the offensive zone with speed. Just as he was about to pull the trigger, Bears defenseman Mike Green
dove from behind to neatly push the puck off Bochenski’s stick and into the corner.
“All year [assistant coach Bob Woods] has been working with us,” said Green after the game, deflecting the credit after he played well in his first playoff series as a pro. “I think for myself and [Lawrence] Nycholat, who are more offensive, we had to make sure we weren’t running around too much and we were staying in our positions. Nycholat and Mark Wotton and some of the older guys have defined the way we should be playing in the playoffs. And to watch them play, it has helped myself out and a lot of the other guys on defense.”
Norfolk’s Scott Munn went off for hooking at 12:50 and it was then that Hershey finally administered the death blow to the plucky Admirals. Wotton took control of the puck near the Norfolk line, skated it in and spotted Eric Fehr cruising down the right side with time and space. Wotton fed Fehr, who smartly realized that he didn’t have much net at which to shoot. He continued around the back of the net with speed and used his long reach to slide a wraparound shot into the goal with just 5:40 left in the third. The goal was Fehr’s first playoff tally as a professional.
The Admirals wouldn’t roll over, and Hershey was forced to kill a late penalty to defenseman Jakub Cutta in order to seal the deal. Steckel and Beech both lofted late shots into the unguarded Norfolk cage. The two unassisted shorthanded tallies made the score much more lopsided than it was.
“It’s one out of the way,” said Cassivi of the series win. “You learn a little bit and every game is a big game. Even though we won four straight, we’ve had to work hard every game to earn our wins. And it’s going to be even harder in the series to come. To go all the way, you’ve got to win one series at a time. We’ve got one out of the way and we’re looking forward to that second one.” QUOTEBOOK
Boudreau on the importance of winning Game 4 – “We wanted to. We didn’t want to give them any momentum. We thought their confidence was down and if they could win one, then it could snowball. Then Friday comes and anything can happen, then you play Saturday again. I’m a nervous guy anyway to start off with, so I wanted to get it over with tonight and I think the guys did as well.”
Boudreau on what he’ll do with the extra time between series – “It’ll calm my nerves down a little bit, but I’ll probably be in Wilkes-Barre [Wednesday]. If there is an advantage, it’s that you get to see the other teams play. It might not show because we’ve used pretty well the same lineup, but we have a lot of guys with a lot of bumps and bruises and it’s a good chance for them to rest their injured bodies.”
Boudreau on Cassivi – “I thought tonight was his best game. I thought tonight he was challenged with a lot more scoring chances. When the score was 2-1 and 3-1 he made some really big saves. You could see us watching the clock and [Matt Keith] missed the open net right in front of the net. If he had scored that, we would have been on our heels pretty good in the last two minutes. But when he needed to make the saves, he made them. You need that in the playoffs and we got it from him.”
Boudreau on the team taking a step with its first series win since 2002 and its first best-of-seven series win since 2001 (both of those also came against Norfolk) – “I think it’s a step. Every time you win, you get hungrier for more. You never get satisfied with feeling good. I think we learned a lot in the discipline area and we learned a lot in how to shut it down and not take offensive chances when we don’t need to. It might have been four straight, but it was a heck of a team we played. We got by them, so we must be doing something right.”
Boudreau on the Bears’ next opponent – “I don’t know, any team. We’ve lost the last four against Bridgeport I think, or four out of the last five or three out of the last four. And Wilkes-Barre has been very tough on us in their building. So it’s pick your poison night. We’re just glad to be there playing somebody.”
Boudreau on what’s next as far as preparing for the next series – We’ll start preparing as soon as we find out who we’re playing. They’ll have a well-deserved day off [Wednesday]. We’ll meet early on Thursday and we’ll have a plan then. I haven’t really thought about what we’re doing because we hadn’t won. I don’t like to put the cart before the horse because I’ve done it before and it’s come back to bite me. We were just focusing on today, and then we’ll find out what happens after today. And we did, so it’ll take me a day to figure out it out tomorrow.
Green on getting his first playoff series win as a professional – “It feels pretty good, especially to win it here in four so we can get a little rest before the next series.”
Wotton on the team’s defense playing so well – “That’s playoff hockey. You’ve got to play good defense. And it’s not just the defense, the forwards are coming back quick and putting great back pressure on their forwards. It’s a team effort.”
Fehr on the series: “We knew how tough of an opponent they were going to be. The guys on our team were excited and we came out hard in every game and the guys really deserved the series win in general.”
Fehr on how the Bears and Admirals sized each other up in the just-completed series – “We knew that in the regular season games we played against them, we didn’t play them as physically as we could. We’ve got a lot of big guys on this team and I think they thought we were going to try to play soft hockey and score a lot of goals. But we came out running and gunning and trying to hit everything, and trying to knock them off their game and knock them off stride. We accomplished that in the first couple of games and they had to try to adjust their game.”
Mink on the importance of winning Game 4 – “It was important to win tonight to get a break. We’ve got some guys who are a little sore, a little banged up. This is a long playoff series; it’s six weeks, eight weeks long. To give guys a break was important and also to continue to play the game we’ve been playing, we don’t want to lose focus and lose track of what gave us success. So it was a very important game in that aspect.”
Mink on which opponent he would prefer to face in the next series – “Whoever. It doesn’t matter to me. I’d like them to go seven games.”
Mink on the importance of Fehr’s goal late in the third – “It was a relief on the bench. We had been knocking [on the door] all night and had a lot of close chances. They were still hanging around and that goal was a really big goal. It was a great effort by that whole line and especially Eric to bury it there. It gave us a little bit of breathing room.”NOTEBOOKBig Man is Big in Big Games –
Cassivi is now 11-3 in playoff action in a Hershey sweater.The Three Bears –
Fleischmann (two goals, five assists), Beech (three goals, three assists) and Steckel (three goals, two assists) are the three Hershey players who have picked up at least a point in each of the first four games of the 2006 Calder Cup playoffs.Can’t Win If You Don’t Lead –
Hershey scored first in three of the four games and trailed for just 19:58 (all of it in Saturday’s Game 3 at Norfolk) of the total of 261:52 played in the series.Lining Up –
Hershey made no lineup changes for Game 4, going with the same lineup as in Games 2 and 3 in Norfolk. The Admirals scratched defenseman Brandon Rogers, replacing him with Nick Kuiper, who saw his first action of the series. Right wing Milan Bartovic was scratched after going pointless with eight PIM and a minus-2 in the first three games.
Nineteen-year-old right wing Michael Blunden replaced Bartovic in the lineup. Blunden was Chicago’s second pick (43rd overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. He signed an amateur tryout contract with Norfolk a month ago and totaled a goal and six points in his 11-game regular season pro debut. Blunden spent most of the 2005-06 season with the Erie Otters of the OHL.