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Bears Pin Pens, 4-1

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
HERSHEY, Pa – In winning their first six games of the 2006 Calder Cup playoffs, the Hershey Bears had seen a little bit of everything: a hat trick, a shutout, an overtime, a few fights, a few misconducts, a 5-on-3 goal against. Until Sunday night’s Game 3 of the East Division finals between the Bears and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, one thing the Bears had not seen was a goal by one of their defensemen.


Scratch that off the list.

Bears blueliner Jakub Cutta scored a rare power play goal early in the second period, and it proved to be the game-winner as Hershey downed the Penguins 4-1 to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series between the two teams. Game 4 is at Giant Center in Hershey on Tuesday night.

Cutta’s goal came as he exited the penalty box in the first minute of the second period, giving the Bears a brief power play after the two teams had been playing 4-on-4. As Cutta came out of the box, Bears defenseman Martin Wilde was corralling the puck deep in his own end. He spotted Cutta at the opposite blueline and sailed the puck along the wall and onto Cutta’s stick. The veteran Bears defenseman lumbered into the offensive zone, cut toward the middle of the ice and calmly lifted a backhander over Pens goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury before reinforcements could arrive from behind. Cutta’s first power play goal since 2002-03 gave the Bears a 2-0 advantage. He has totaled six goals in 295 lifetime regular season AHL games but has three goals in 17 career Calder Cup contests.

“I was just lucky enough [that I] caught a break,” said Cutta. “I made up my mind as I went in that I was going to go to my backhand. Fortunately it went in, so I am very happy for that.”

Less than 24 hours after biting on the bait from Bears’ agitator Louis Robitaille in Game 2, veteran Penguins enforcer Dennis Bonvie did it again. Just over four minutes into the first, Robitaille and Bonvie stood alongside one another during a neutral zone draw, with Robitaille doing the yipping and Bonvie doing the chipping. Referee Chris Ciamaga noticed, and banished Bonvie to the box for roughing.

The penalty proved costly for the Pens. Halfway through the man advantage, Hershey worked the puck down low and around the net to Fleury’s left. Graham Mink took it near the goal line and squeezed it into an area that Fleury should have had covered. The Bears had a 1-0 lead at the 5:17 mark, and had scored the first goal of the game for the sixth time in seven postseason contests. Mink became the sixth different Bear to score the first goal of the game during the playoffs. Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Beech got assists on the scoresheet, but Robitaille also had a hand in the tally.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton managed but one shot in the game’s first seven minutes and just four in the first period. The Bears killed two first period penalties without allowing a shot on goal and outshot the Penguins 15-4 in the first.

The only downside of the first period for Hershey was the loss of stalwart defenseman Mark Wotton. He left the game early in the period after sustaining an injury. He returned to the bench later, but did not return to the ice. Hershey’s Lawrence Nycholat was unable to play and did not dress for Game 3, so Wotton’s injury taxed the remaining Bears blueliners even more.

Midway through the second period, Eric Fehr appeared to give the Bears a 3-0 lead, only to have the goal waived off. Officials ruled that Fehr had kicked the puck in. Less than four minutes later, the Bears did make it 3-0. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Ryan Whitney was whistled for a delayed penalty after taking a hack at Hershey’s Dave Steckel behind the Penguins’ net. Boyd Gordon took the puck as Steckel fought his way through Whitney. Gordon spun and shot, and Steckel banged home the rebound, barking at Whitney while his Bears teammates congratulated him.

“Two or three shifts before,” related Steckel, “[Whitney] came by the bench and had some words for me. So it was fitting, for me anyways, to pop that goal right in front of him. I just wanted to make sure he knew that I scored that goal there.”

At that point, 12:11 into the second period, the Bears had things firmly under control. Hershey had a 22-8 advantage in shots on goal and was picking up right where it left off in Saturday’s dominating win. But there was a long way to go.

With six minutes left in the middle frame, the Bears were severely tested when Jared Aulin and Mike Green were both sent off for simultaneous cross-checking violations. With two of its best defensemen unavailable and a third in the penalty box, Hershey was looking at a two-man disadvantage for a full two minutes.
 
Steckel, Gordon and Cutta were sent out and charged with the task, and Dean Arsene came on later to help with the heavy lifting. That group got the job done, holding the Penguins to just two harmless shots from the perimeter.

“Obviously it was a huge kill at that point in the game,” said Steckel. “We had to use two forwards there to help our defense out. When you get to go back and play [defense] during practice, it’s pretty fun. When you get to do it during the game, it’s even more fun.  When you have a penalty kill, you just have to outwork their five guys and I thought we did that. It was a huge momentum-builder for us.”

“I thought that was a big turning point,” said Bears head coach Bruce Boudreau. “I think it took a little bit of their will out. But the moment you think that, they come back and they played the hardest period I think they’ve played all series in the third period. But it was a fabulous job by our penalty killers.”

There was more work to be done for the Bears’ penalty killers. The Pens had another brief 5-on-3 advantage late in the second after taking two more minors. Hershey killed those without incident, but WBS finally broke through on yet another power play early in the third. The Penguins created a 3-on-1 down low in the offensive zone, chiefly because Cutta was down on the ice behind the Bears net after taking an undetected high stick to the chin. Erik Christensen beat Hershey goaltender Frederic Cassivi for his first goal of the series, giving the Pens some life. It was 3-1 with more than 15 minutes to play, and the Penguins had outshot the Bears 10-0 in the 11:08 since Steckel’s strike.

“There was a lot of pressure on us the last half of this game here, but we stood up to it,” said Cassivi. “Some of our defensemen had to step up with Mark Wotton and Lawrence Nycholat being injured, but it was a good team effort and we just have to keep that going.”

With just over eight minutes left, another of those defensemen stepped up. Twenty-year-old rearguard Jeff Schultz – making his pro hockey debut – netted the first goal of his career to remove whatever air might have remained in the WBS balloon. After going six-plus games without a goal from its defense, Hershey had its second in as many periods.

“I just kind of picked it off the wall and tried to find a shooting lane and just fired it,” recounted Schultz. “I think it hit one of their forwards who tried to block it. [It went] off his pants and kind of redirected it.”

The Penguins pulled Fleury for an extra skater with 2:10 left but couldn’t muster anything in the way of an attack. Cassivi stopped 22 of the 23 shots he faced to earn his seventh win of the playoffs, tops in the AHL. Cassivi is now 14-3 in Calder Cup action as a member of the Bears.

Once again the heroes were many, but the Bears defense deserves special recognition for playing so well without two of its top members. Hershey killed eight of nine WBS power plays on the night and made sure Cassivi wasn’t tested with too many strong scoring chances.

“It’s a weird game sometimes,” mused Boudreau. “But sometimes when people go down, the rest of the group gets more focused. I’ve watched it happen so many times. When you play with five [defensemen] or you lose a [defenseman] during the course of the game, those five remaining [defensemen] just pick it up so much. You can’t do it for long term, but in the short term it usually works out for you.”

QUOTEBOOK
Boudreau on the play of Arsene, who was constantly breaking up plays and passes with his stick and his positioning: “I thought he was fabulous today. I play with Deano a lot and rib him a lot, but I thought Cutta, Deano and Marty Wilde were exceptional. And for Jeff Schultz’s first game, and the pressure [the Penguins’] speed can put on you, I thought he played really well.”

Boudreau on Hershey’s momentum: “It’s a weird word, ‘momentum.’ I don’t know if I really believe in it or not. I just know that we’re playing really hard. The biggest thing I think we’re doing right now is we’re taking one game at a time and we’re not looking at, ‘Hey, what happens if we win here, when do we play next?’ Our focus [Monday] and Tuesday will be solely on Tuesday’s game. It’s like there is nothing at the end of Tuesday, and then Wednesady morning we will wake up and say, ‘Okay, what do we have next?’ I think that’s the big case, taking things one day at a time. It can sound so daunting to say, ‘Oh man, if we go all the way, we’re into June.’ But if you look at it just one day at a time, it’s not that long.”

Boudreau on his forwards’ continued strong play in the offensive zone: “That’s what happens when you have the luxury of big forwards, and we’ve got big forwards. They protect the puck really well and when you do that, you control it. When you play most of the game in the other team’s zone, that’s less opportunities for them in your zone. The last two games when they had opportunities, Freddie was there. It’s a great combination.”

Cutta on Schultz’s first pro game: “I have to take my hat off to Schultzie because he played unbelievable for his first game. It was tough to throw him in like this, but he really stepped up and I am really happy for him.”

Cassivi on whether the Bears can sense the Penguins losing steam: “Actually, not really. We were hoping they would, but if you look at the last 30 minutes of this game they put pressure on us and we had to take penalties. We can’t take anything easy, we’ve got to keep going hard.”

Schultz on his first pro game: “I didn’t really know what to expect strength-wise and with the speed of the game. But I had a blast out there and the team is rolling right now. Hopefully we can continue it on.

“Playing four exhibition games in September, I kind of got a feel for the speed and the strength of the players. But going back to junior, you are playing with boys again. Getting recalled up here, you are back with the men. My first couple of shifts you realize that you are one of the boys out there playing with the men. It’s tough knocking them off the puck.”

Steckel on the game: “We knew we lost [Wotton] early and the defense really stepped it up and the forwards helped them out. It was great to see Schultzie get the first goal of his career.”

Steckel on Hershey’s postseason success: “I thought we played well during the regular season, and there are a lot of guys who have been on playoff teams and the leadership is phenomenal. I think right from the get-go they’ve been teaching us younger guys how to get things done. Every game matters here and it’s something we look forward to and we’ve got to continue to do.”

Arsene on the defense’s performance: “I think when you lose two of your best defensemen, we didn’t want to be a scapegoat or anything. We wanted to come out hard. We had to step up our game; we knew there was a lot more responsibility for all of is in the back end. It was Schultzie’s first game and a lot of us played more minutes than we’re used to. We just wanted to keep it simple and work hard every shift. We were fortunate to have a pretty solid game out there tonight.”

Arsene on the forwards’ impact on the game: “If you look at our lineup up in the front, [we have] very big guys, very strong and physical players. When you can get the puck deep there and they can cycle it, we’re more or less just standing on the blueline. It saves some energy for us and it’s a lot easier playing in their end than playing in ours. It’s good when we can just get it in there and they can wear them down and we can take a little breather here or there.”

Arsene on the defense contributing to the offense: “It was fun out there just to see [Cutta] come out of the box and score a pretty goal there. We were laughing, because you try that stuff in practice, but in a playoff game, who knows? Some of those things are just instinct. It was a great job. And Schultzie, the old adage, you throw the puck on net and good things happen and sure enough it went in.”

Arsene on the team’s playoff success after some lean seasons: “It’s very nice, to be honest with you. It was tough the last couple of years missing the playoffs. It’s such a proud hockey town here. Everybody knows the game well and they’ll cheer for you on the right things, a good penalty kill, a blocked shot, a good hit and all that stuff. It’s nice to come out here and the boys are playing great and up and down the lineup, everybody is working hard. Good things are happening and it has been a lot of fun.”

Arsene on his penchant for breaking up plays with his stick: “Sometimes you are getting the breaks. But also [Bob Woods], our defense coach helps us a lot and he preaches getting sticks in the zone where you can break up passes. We just want to try to keep active and pressure them, If you can pressure them and take away their time as soon as they fumble the pass and jump on them, hopefully you can cause enough chaos to get the puck out.”

NOTEBOOK
All Lined Up – Nycholat was unable to go in Sunday’s Game 3, so Boudreau installed into the lineup in his place. Schultz, Washington’s second choice (first round, 27th overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, spent the 2005-06 season with the WHL’s Calgary Hitmen. He joined the Bears on April 21 in Norfolk after the Hitmen were eliminated from the playoffs. Schultz has been practicing with the Bears for the last two weeks, but Sunday’s game represents his professional hockey debut.

Forward Chris Bourque was also installed in the lineup in place of Joey Tenute, who had dressed for all six previous postseason games. The 20-year-old Bourque, who was also chosen in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft (second round, 33rd overall), got his first taste of playoff action as a pro against the Pens on Sunday.

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton scratched forward Matt Hussey, the team’s leading scorer during the regular season. Hussey has managed just one goal in nine playoff games. Kurtis McLean was inserted into the WBS lineup in Hussey’s place.

As has been his practice throughout these playoffs, Penguins coach Joey Mullen changed goaltenders after a loss. Fleury played Game 3 after Dany Sabourin suffered the loss in Game 2.

Streak of Seven – Steckel’s goal and Kris Beech’s first period assist enabled both players to keep scoring streaks alive. Both centers have scored in all seven postseason games to date. Steckel has five goals and three assists; Beech has four goals and six assists.

Tomas Fleischmann has scored in all six of the games he has played (three goals, six assists). Boyd Kane (two goals, four assists) has scored in five straight contests.

Isn’t That Special? – Hershey continued its stellar play on special teams, scoring to power play goals in seven chances and killing eight of nine Penguins power plays. The Bears have now clicked on 12 of 54 (22.2%) of their power play chances in the postseason, the third best rate in the AHL.

The Bears have climbed to 10th in the league in postseason penalty killing. Hershey has killed 41 of 50 (82%) opposition power plays in the playoffs.

Even Keel – Hershey has allowed just three even strength goals in seven postseason games and just one in the three games against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Hershey has not allowed an even strength goal in the last 135:15 and has allowed just one in the last 341:26.

Box Score from TheAHL.com
Hershey Bears Game Story
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