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Bears Take Game 3

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Twin Turning Points – Faced with a must-win situation, the Hershey Bears got the job done on Monday night. Midway through Game 3 of the Calder Cup final series with the Texas Stars, he Bears’ offense roared to life. Five unanswered Hershey goals sparked a comeback, erased a 3-1 deficit and pushed the Bears to a 6-3 lead over the Stars.

With the win, Hershey halved the Stars’ series lead to 2-1. Game 4 is Wednesday night here at Cedar Park Center.

The Bears fought back after a tough start and some bad early bounces.

“We thought, ‘Here we go again,’ but we bore down and tried to make our own bounces,” says Bears forward Chris Bourque, whose two assists pulled him within a point of the Stars’ Jamie Benn for the Calder Cup playoffs scoring lead. “The first period didn’t really go the way we wanted it to, but we kept with it. We had a little pow-wow here between periods, and just stuck to our game plan. We were hoping that good things would happen, and it was the result that we wanted. It was really nice to get the win. It was a huge win for us.”

An early turning point in the game favored the Stars, but Texas would supply the Bears with another turning point midway through the game.

After the Stars’ Andrew Hutchinson started the scoring with a power play goal -- a goal that bounced in off Hershey's Boyd Kane -- at 5:59 of the first period, Kyle Wilson evened things up for the Bears at 10:33. Cruising along the goal line to the right of Texas netminder Matt Climie, Wilson took a smart feed from Francois Bouchard in the high slot and chipped it high over Climie from a tight angle.

The game’s first turning point came just 30 seconds later when the Stars’ Ethan Graham was sent off for tripping. Having led for just 5:32 of the 131:03 of hockey played in the series to that point, Hershey had a prime opportunity to seize momentum of the game, take the lead in a game, and bring its somnambulant power play to life.

Instead, the Stars scored a gift of a shorthanded goal just 12 seconds after Graham was seated. Bears goaltender Michal Neuvirth whiffed on a clearing attempt in front of the Hershey goal, and Francis Wathier scooped up the puck and deposited it behind Neuvirth to give Texas a 2-1 lead.

With just 2:03 remaining in the first, the Bears’ John Carlson made an ill-advised neutral zone gamble that resulted in an odd-man break and a Texas tally. Carlson extended himself to try to get a stick on a breakout pass, but instead took himself out of the play and enabled the Stars to race off on a 2-on-1. Scott McCulloch perfectly fed Ray Sawada for the goal.

Owning a 3-1 lead and outshooting the Bears 18-7 on the night, the Stars unwittingly lit a match under a previously lifeless Bears attack. Once again, it was a Graham penalty that turned the tide.

Bears center Mathieu Perreault parked himself in front, and Graham took a whack at him. There was no call. But Graham wasn’t satisfied, so he delivered an elbow to Perreault, an infraction that referee Kyle Rehman whistled.

Halfway through the man-advantage, Keith Aucoin carved his way through the Texas defense and moved in on Climie. Instead of shooting, he dished to Wilson, who drove the net and tapped the disc into a yawning cage.

Just 88 seconds later, Perreault supplied the equalizer from the opposite side of Climie. Perreault one-timed a Karl Alzner pass into the net to even the score at 3-3.

For the third time in as many games, the two teams headed to the third period all even. Hershey squandered a couple of power play opportunities and killed off a penalty of its own before a strong second effort from winger Andrew Gordon resulted in the game-winner. Parked at the goalmouth after taking a pass from Aucoin, Gordon hammered away at the puck until it went in.

“I just went to the net as I try to do as often as possible,” says Gordon of the game-winner. “The puck was just sitting in the defenseman’s feet in sort of a blind spot where he had a tough time locating it. I was just stabbing away and stabbing away until I finally saw the red light go on. It was a good feeling.”

This time, Perreault needed 91 seconds to follow up a key Hershey strike. Taking a perfect pass from Alexandre Giroux, Perreault scored his second of the night from virtually the same spot where he has scored his first.

Gordon closed out the scoring at 12:07 of the third when he tipped Alzner’s point shot past Climie.

From the time Graham took that elbowing minor on Perreault, Hershey outscored Texas 5-0 and outshot the Stars by 27-12.

“We needed a turning point,” says Bears coach Mark French. “Our power play has been the thing that has enabled us to win a lot of games this year and it hadn’t clicked this series, which was obvious the first two games. To be able to have that be the thing that seized us some offensive momentum gives us something to build on.”

Net Presence Equals Net Presents – All six of Hershey’s goals came from down low. The Bears made a point of going to the cage routinely, and they were frequently rewarded for that net presence, especially in the second half of the contest.

“It’s funny,” says French. “Guys aren’t stupid. Once they have a little bit of success and they see it work, then it becomes a little bit of a habit. I thought we were better that way and I thought we got more [offensive] zone time tonight. Our defensemen did a good job of getting shots through and we had a better ability to get to the front of the net. I thought we fought for space well in front.”

“That was part of our game plan,” says Gordon. “We wanted to just crash the net, crash the net. They block so many shots that it’s tough to get second-chance opportunities. We wanted two bodies in front of the net because if that puck squirts out, we need to start winning those battles.”

Double Dipping – A trio of Bears scored a pair of goals each. Wilson scored the first two Bears goals of the game, and Perreault and Gordon alternated the last four. Wilson has six, Perreault has seven and Gordon has 13 goals thus far during the postseason.

“When we were down 3-1, I thought the next goal was obviously a very big one,” says French. “I thought some of our players who had been struggling, some of the key guys, showed some life. It was nice to see Andrew Gordon get two goals and I thought Kyle Wilson played well when we didn’t have much offensive life. It takes some faith to play the way that we needed to play and eventually good things started to happen for us.”

Long Time Gone – For the Stars, tonight was their first game in front of the home folks at Cedar Park Center since Game 5 of their Western Conference final series with the Hamilton Bulldogs. That May 22 game was some 16 days ago, and until tonight it also marked the Stars most recent loss, a 3-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Bulldogs.

Game 3 at Cedar Park Center produced a record crowd of 7,014 for the venue.

Five Unanswered – After scoring four goals in the first 130 minutes of this series, Hershey found the back of the net five times in a span of just under a period. The last five Hershey goals came in a span of just 19:40 from the middle of the second to the middle of the third.

Been A While – Texas allowed as many as six goals in a game for the first time in more than four months. The Stars suffered a 6-5 setback to Peoria back on Feb. 5, the last time their defense and goaltending were dented a half dozen times in one night.
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