One team is making its first playoff appearance in three years, the other is seeking its first ever win in a best-of-seven playoff series. The intensity of the situation was evident on Wednesday night at the Giant Center in Hershey, when the home-standing Bears took a 3-2 victory over the Norfolk Admirals in the opening game of the AHL East Division semifinal series.
Boyd Gordon’s third period goal broke a 2-2 tie and gave Hershey a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. It was a hard fought contest with a high level of intensity from the opening faceoff. Hits were delivered with a bit of extra relish. Extracurricular activity after the whistle was more frequent and contained a bit of extra snarl. The Bears were happy to get the first win, especially since they must now travel to Norfolk for Games 2 and 3 on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
“I’m just happy to get that first one out of the way,” said a relieved Bruce Boudreau, Bears head coach, after the game. “I just told the guys, ‘This is what the series is going to be like, every game one through seven.’ That team never quits. They keep coming at you. We were in a defensive mode most of the night here, and I think we’re going to have to get better as the series goes on.”
The Bears and goaltender Frederic Cassivi were tested early when Hershey defenseman Lawrence Nycholat was detected hooking just 51 seconds into the game. The Bears killed it off, but Cassivi was forced to make a stellar save on a point blank slot shot just seconds after the penalty expired.
“When you talk about staying focused for 60 minutes, it’s not because a penalty kill ends that you can relax,” stated Cassivi. “It’s not because you are up two goals that you can relax. It’s a long series, and it’s a long game. If you take 10 seconds off, it can change the whole series around.”
Norfolk’s Milan Bartovic took a pair of minors in the first and four on the night, including two minors for charging. Just 13 seconds after his slashing minor in the first, the Bears’ Kris Beech gave Hershey a 1-0 lead. Beech won an offensive zone draw to the left of Norfolk netminder Adam Munro, drawing the puck back to the point. Tomas Fleischmann passed to Mike Green
who fired on net. Munro made the save but kicked the puck directly onto Beech’s blade. Parked on the doorstep, the big center easily fired it home.
Hershey pushed its advantage to 2-0 midway through the second when Fleischmann got a stick on Green’s shot and dribbled it past Munro. But four minutes later, Norfolk took advantage of a break to halve the lead.
Bears’ blueliner Martin Wilde lost his stick during a scramble in the Hershey end, whereupon Hershey captain Boyd Kane handed his own weapon to Wilde. The Bears cleared the zone, but Norfolk defensemen Danny Richmond and James Wisniewski effected a quick transition, with Wisniewski lofting a high, arching pass just beyond the Bears’ blueline. Wilde had it fall at his feet without realizing it was there, and Norfolk’s Pavel Vorobiev picked it from Wilde’s skate blades and fired it past Cassivi.
Thirty-three seconds after Vorobiev’s goal, the Bears had a chance to restore the two-goal cushion. Fleischmann was hauled down on a breakaway and awarded a penalty shot. He skated in and deked, but got too deep to get a clean shot off. Munro slid his skates out and knocked the puck harmlessly aside.
“I was happy to see that it was Fleisch [on the penalty shot] because he is so skilled,” reflected Boudreau. “And I think he had [Munro] beat, but he made one move too many.”
Norfolk went on a power play at 19:51 of the middle frame when Dave Steckel went off for goaltender interference, then got a bonus at the buzzer when Nycholat was assessed two minors to Shawn Thornton’s single after the two became entangled along the wall in Hershey’s end. The extra minor to Nycholat gave the Admirals a two-man advantage on a fresh sheet of ice for 1:51 at the outset of the third period. The Admirals needed just 41 seconds to tie the game, with former Bear Carl Corazzini rifling a one-timer past Cassivi after a crisp cross-ice feed from Mark Cullen.
The Bears killed off the remainder of the power play, but Norfolk got another extra man chance just minutes later when Cassivi took a delay of game minor at 4:03. Just as the Bears were putting the finishing touches on that kill, Steckel shoveled the puck out of the Hershey zone and onto Gordon’s stick. As Gordon went one-on-one with the Norfolk defender, he was then joined by Kane, who was exiting the box after having served Cassivi’s penalty. With a two-on-one in the offensive zone, Gordon squared his body to Kane’s, telegraphing a pass that never came. Instead, Gordon fired a wrist shot that beat Munro clean, high to the glove side.
“I was trying to get close and trying to maybe slide it under [the defenseman’s] stick,” explained Gordon, “but the angle just didn’t seem right. But the d-man gave me a lot of room and I saw some open space. I just wanted to get a good shot on net, and fortunately it went in.”
Gordon’s shot was one of only three in the third for the Bears; they were outshot 10-3 in the final frame. From there, Cassivi and the Bears battened down the hatches. Hershey’s veteran goaltender made eight stops the rest of the way, and his defensemen showed some good sticks in breaking up some other chances out in front.
The Bears will pack a 1-0 lead for the trip south to Norfolk, but they know they can’t rest on that laurel.
“It’s always nice to get the first one out of the way,” said Cassivi. “Enjoy it until you go to bed tonight and then tomorrow is a new day and we’ve got to start thinking about Games 2 and 3. “Quotebook:
Boudreau on the game: “We’d like to play more in their end. I though we did a great job in our end, and the penalty killing did an outstanding job. And Freddie [Cassivi], as well, especially the first 10 minutes of the game I thought he made some tremendous saves to not allow them to get the lead, which would have been a real confidence boost to their team.
Boudreau on discipline: “There were too many scrums where they were throwing a punch here and we’ve got to stay away from that. We’ve got to be smart enough to be able to take a punch to the head.”
Boudreau on the importance of winning Game 1: “It surely would have been a real difficult task. It’s still a difficult task, but going into their building and pretty well having to win both of them to prevent it from going to seven, we don’t want a Game 7 in their building. I think they know that, too. They knew the advantage to winning the first game here. They’re a very good road team.”
Hershey’s Louis Robitaille on taking one for the team, via his new haircut, a modified Mohawk: “Every year I promise that I will shave it or something. I said this year if I think we can win it, I will shave it and do lots of stuff, me and Joey [Tenute, who sports a similar ‘do]. I think this year is going to be our year and my hair is going to be the good luck charm.”
Robitaille on his fight with Norfolk’s Colin Fraser, who came at him just 22 seconds after the Bears went up by two goals midway through the game: “I didn’t want to change the momentum of the game; we had the advantage out there. He came to me and challenged me; I was not looking for a fight. I think he was looking to change the momentum for his team, but I think I won my fight. I did my job. That’s what they want from me and that’s what I am going to do the whole playoffs.”
Beech on the importance of winning Game 1: “Heading down there for two games after one at home, it’s pretty huge to get that first game. We pride ourselves on being a tough team to play at home, just like any other team. I’m sure they pride themselves on being tough to play in their building so for us, it was a great job to get that win.”
Gordon on being back in the playoffs after a one-year absence: “It’s good to be back. The intensity is a lot different. It’s a real battle out there and it’s exciting to play.”Notebook:
The Calgary Hitmen suffered a 3-1 loss in Game 7 of their second-round WHL playoff series with the Moose Jaw Warriors on Wednesday. Calgary defenseman Jeff Schultz
’s junior career is now over and he could join Hershey as soon as this weekend … Norfolk’s Brandon Bochenski, reassigned from Chicago at the conclusion of the NHL season, did not play for Norfolk on Wednesday because of a concussion. He did not suit up for Chicago’s regular season finale on Tuesday against St. Louis, either.