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Bears Take East Final Opener

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Déjà vu All Over Again – Three years ago, the Hershey Bears and the Manchester Monarchs met in the AHL’s Eastern Conference final series in the Calder Cup playoffs. The Bears rolled to a 4-0 series sweep in that one, outscoring the Monarchs by a whopping 18-5 in the process.

Tonight, the two teams met again in Game 1 of the 2010 Eastern Conference final series at Giant Center in Hershey. The Bears took a 4-2 decision in the series opener.

Hershey came out strong, grabbing an early 1-0 lead on a Sean Collins point shot just 16 seconds into the game. The goal was Collins’ first of the 2010 Calder Cup playoffs and the first playoff goal of his AHL career. The Bears added to their lead when Andrew Gordon put back a rebound of an Alexandre Giroux shot on a Hershey power play at 10:02 of the initial frame.

Hershey’s Steve Pinizzotto scored what would prove to be the game-winner at 7:25 of the second. He gained the attack zone on the right wing, settled the puck, hesitated and then whipped a wrister short side to beat Manchester netminder Jonathan Bernier and give lift-off to Bernier’s water bottle.

Leading 3-0 and outshooting the Monarchs 22-15 after two, the Bears were somewhat sluggish in the game’s final 20 minutes. They allowed some odd-man breaks and some strong scoring chances, but Hershey goaltender Michal Neuvirth walled off the Monarchs through the first dozen minutes of the final frame. His shutout went by the wayside when Andrej Lokionov notched his first playoff goal as a pro at the 12:35 mark of the third. Lokionov won a puck battle in the corner and fired a shot from down along the goal line that eluded Neuvirth on the short side.

Hershey defenseman Karl Alzner got that one back for the Bears less than two minutes later when he took a terrific pass from Boyd Kane and drove it past Bernier to give the Bears a 4-1 cushion. Some sloppy defense on the Bears’ part enabled Gabe Gauthier to drive the net unmolested at 16:10, and he converted a perfect centering pass from Oscar Moller to close out the scoring for the night.

Neuvirth finished with 24 saves, running his 2010 playoff ledger to a perfect 7-0 in the process.

What Layoff? – One of the storylines early in this series figured to be how the Bears would respond to a 12-day layoff in between the end of their second-round series with the Albany River Rats and the opening contest of the Eastern Conference final series with Manchester.

The Bears quickly eliminated any questions of lingering rust.

Hershey scored on its first shift and first shot of the game and added another power play marker later in the first frame. The Bears led the Monarchs 13-7 in first-period shots, but more importantly, Hershey never took its foot off the gas in the first. They continually put forechecking pressure on the Monarchs and rarely allowed Manchester any sustained attack zone pressure of its own.

O vs. D – This series pits the league’s top offensive team against the AHL’s top defensive team, at least as far as prior playoff performance is concerned. The Bears came into tonight’s series opener with an average of 4.44 goals per game in the 2010 Calder Cup playoffs. Manchester had allowed just 1.50 goals per game coming into Wednesday’s Game 1.

Solved – Manchester’s Bernier entered the game with stellar postseason numbers. He was 8-2 with two shutouts, a 1.48 GAA and a .952 save pct. through the first two rounds of the 2009-10 Calder Cup playoffs.

Bernier led the AHL in regular season save pct. by a wide margin in 2009-10 fashioning an impressive .936 mark. He also led the circuit with nine shutouts and was second with a 2.03 GAA and third with 30 victories.

Hershey wasted no time in solving the 21-year-old goaltender, scoring the game’s first goal just 16 seconds in. The Bears dented Bernier for four goals on 28 shots for the night, sending his playoff GAA all the way up to 1.71 in the process.

Leading Men – Along with Hershey’s Chris Bourque, Bears forwards Giroux, Gordon and Keith Aucoin occupy four of the top five spots among the leading scorers in the 2010 Calder Cup playoffs, and each of the three picked up a point on the Bears’ second goal. Gordon’s power play strike.

Giroux leads the way with 18 points (10 goals, eight assists). Gordon is third with 15 points (10 goals, five assists) and Aucoin is fifth with 14 points (one goal, 13 assists). Bourque’s 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) are good for second in the circuit.

Gordon and Giroux are tied for the league lead in playoff goals.

Home Cooking – Hershey is now a perfect 6-0 on Giant Center ice in the 2010 Calder Cup playoffs. The Bears have won 35 of their last 36 games overall here in Hershey.

Shutdown – The Bears did what no other team had been able to do until tonight, keep Manchester’s Bud Holloway off the scoresheet. Holloway’s 10-game scoring streak came to a halt on Wednesday.
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