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Bears Tie Series

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
Hill, Climbed – On Sunday, the Hershey Bears boarded a charter plane for Texas hill country with a big hill to climb. Having uncharacteristically lost the first two games of their Calder Cup final series with the Texas Stars on Hershey ice, the Bears needed a Texas-sized bounce-back to climb the Texas-sized hill that faced them.

Three nights later they are enjoying the view from that hill.

John Carlson’s power play goal with 2:08 left in the third period made 4-2 winners of the Bears and ensured that the Stars would have to win again at Giant Center in order to life the Calder Cup for themselves. Game 5 is Friday night here at Cedar Park Center in Cedar Park, Tex.

“That’s what we’ve been working on, that power play, the 1-3-1. I’m in the middle so I have a bit of free reign going in and out of the slot. Me and [Keith Aucoin] have been working on that shot/pass for a while, and we’ve almost had it a few times. It was a good time for it to click here.”

Carlson’s goal brought the Bears back from a 2-1 deficit; they rebounded from a 3-1 ditch to take Monday’s Game 3 at the CPC.

“It’s huge for the team,” says Bears center Jay Beagle. “Especially because it’s been a weird series. They win two in our rink and we win two in theirs. It’s been an emotional series. It was do or die when we came to Texas. We’re playing like it, and it’s paying off.”

Hershey scored the game’s first goal at 5:17 of the first when Keith Aucoin notched his second of the playoffs on a Hershey power play. The Stars’ Greg Rallo drew the Stars even at 17:33 of the first when he wristed a shot from the high slot past the outstretched glove of Bears goaltender Michal Neuvirth.

Texas took the lead midway through the second on a Perttu Lindgren power play strike, but Beagle – one of the Bears’ best players all over the ice on Wednesday – evened the scored for the Bears less than three minutes later, whipping a wrist shot from between the circles past Texas goaltender Matt Climie.

“[Mathieu Perreault] threw it out front,” recounts Beagle. “I was coming through the slot and I had to collect it with my foot because it was bouncing. I got it onto my stick and I saw a hole. I shot for it; there was a screen in front. I was shooting to miss guys.”

The third period was played at a breakneck pace with few whistles to interrupt the action. The score remained knotted and shots on goal were also virtually even until late in the frame when Aucoin fed a pass from the left half-wall to a vacant area in the slot. Carlson cruised into that white space like a shark catching a whiff of blood in the water, and he knifed the puck along the ice and through Climie to put the Bears on top.

Texas foolishly killed hope of a late rally just 10 seconds after Carlson’s goal when Scott McCulloch took a boarding call in the offensive zone. Climie reacted to that incident with rage, shattering his goalie stick on the crossbar.

Alexandre Giroux removed any sense of drama when he notched an empty-netter with fewer than 30 seconds left on the clock.

“That was a very good hockey game,” says Bears coach Mark French. “I thought both teams played hard. It’s funny; the promotional time-out seemed to help us. It’s sometimes an annoyance in games to have three [of them], but certainly could use them. I think that speaks to the game and the pace of the play both ways.

“We wanted to build some momentum off our last performance and especially the last half of that game. We didn’t talk really about where the series stood. I think everybody knew the importance of this game tonight. Our guys were focused and I think we did gain some confidence from the way we finished Game 3.”

Big John, Big Goal – Carlson has shown a proclivity for key goals at key times. In the last five months, he has supplied the goal that won the IIHF World Junior Championship in overtime for Team USA, a late third-period goal that tied a Stanley Cup playoff game the Capitals eventually won in overtime, and tonight’s game-winner – his first goal of the playoffs – in the Calder Cup final.

Carlson was one of just a few Bears regulars who decided to take his option and skate at Tuesday’s optional team practice. He did so because he believed he had played poorly in Monday night’s Game 3.

“I think [Bears assistant coach] Troy Mann’s done a very good job with John,” begins French, “and I think everybody’s expectations with John are through the roof because of what he’s done at the NHL level. I think we have to remember that he’s a first-year pro.

“I’m very proud of him because they often say good players, if they have a bad game and they’re fighting it you know they’re going to be bad the rest of the night. I think John struggled early, but he showed a great deal of mental toughness to be able to come back and be a special player in the third period.”

Too Many, Too Bad – Both teams were whistled for a bench minor for having too many men on the ice in Game 4, and both teams were victimized on the ensuing opposition power play.

Texas’ Perttu Lindgren scored just 17 seconds after the Bears were detected with too many skaters midway through the middle period, and Carlson’s game-winner came just 31 seconds after the Stars had too many legs on the sheet.

Tied For The Top Spot – Bears forward Chris Bourque had another strong game, and he picked up the other assist on Carlson’s game-winner. Bourque now has 26 points (seven goals, 19 assists) in 19 post-season games and he is tied for the AHL lead in that department.

Bourque is tied with Texas’ Jamie Benn for the top spot in scoring. Benn leads all AHL skaters with 14 playoff goals, but he has been held to two assists in four games by Hershey in the Calder Cup final series.

A handful of other Hershey skaters populate the league’s top 10 in the Calder Cup scoring chase.

Giroux and Aucoin are tied for third with 24 points. Andrew Gordon’s 19 points are tied for sixth in the circuit and Mathieu Perreault has 18 points to rank eighth in the league.

Lineup Changes – Texas played without top defenseman Andrew Hutchinson, a 30-year-old veteran of 135 NHL contests. Hutchinson was injured in Monday’s Game 3, and did not skate with his teammates on Wednesday morning.

With 38 points (nine goals, 29 assists) during the regular season, Hutchinson led all Stars’ blueliners in scoring. With 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 21 postseason games, Hutchinson leads all AHL defensemen in playoff scoring. He was replaced in the lineup by Trevor Ludwig, the 25-year-old son of longtime NHL blueliner Craig Ludwig.

Hershey inserted rookie winger Cody Eakin into the lineup for Wednesday night’s Game 4. Eakin, the 19-year-old Winnipeg native who was Washington’s third-round (85th overall) choice in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, saw action for the third time this spring. Ashton Rome was a scratch for Hershey after playing in Monday’s Game 4.

Tight Set – There have been eight intermissions thus far in the four games of this series, and the score has been tied after seven of them.

Short-Lived Record – Monday night’s Game 3 lured 7,014 fans to the Cedar Park Center, setting an attendance record for the nascent building. Those folks must’ve told some friends, because 18 more bodies were shoehorned into the CPC for Wednesday night’s Game 4, erasing the 48-hour-old previous mark.

Chocolatetown Celebration – Giant Centre will play host to its first-ever Calder Cup crowning ceremony next week, either on Monday or Wednesday night. The last time any team claimed the Calder in Hershey was in 1980 when the Bears won it at the old Hersheypark Arena.

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