Laich was a fitting hero in a game that contained more plot twists than a classic film noir. His line was integral in Hershey grabbing a 3-2 lead late in the third, he scored the goal that gave the Bears a 4-2 lead, and then was whistled for a high-sticking major that enabled the Admirals to tie it and send it into overtime with a pair of late power play tallies.
“There was a play at the boards and it bounced and I was able to knock it by a couple of their guys into the [offensive] zone," said Laich in describing his game-winner. "I don’t know if [the Admirals] thought it was offside, but it just kept bouncing. All year long in Washington, coach [Glen] Hanlon said. 'funnel pucks to the net and good things are going to happen.' I didn’t have much to do, I decided to just throw it on net and it got caught in [Munro’s] feet. Then I poked at it again and it went through and I took it around the net and just tapped it in. It wasn’t a pretty goal for sure but I’ll definitely take it."
“We persevered,” sighed relieved Bears coach Bruce Boudreau after the game. “That’s the bottom line. We persevered.”
After dropping the first two games of the series, including Friday night’s playoff home opener, you had to figure the Admirals would come out hard on Friday and they did just that. Admirals head coach Mike Haviland went back to Adam Munro as his goaltending choice. Munro started each of the first two games, but was pulled at the start of Game 2 after giving up four goals in the first two periods.
Both teams found themselves in penalty trouble in the first period. Hershey had the special teams edge through the first two games, but that element shifted in the first stanza of Saturday’s Game 3. Each team was able to kill its first shorthanded situation without incident, but the Bears put themselves down two men for 1:39. Dean Arsene and Mark Wotton were in the box and unavailable for killing duty.
The Bears cleared the defensive zone twice and got through the first 1:22 of the two-man disadvantage, but Norfolk’s Brandon Bochenski gave his team its first lead of the series at 11:00 of the first when he took a sharp cross-ice pass from Martin St. Pierre and whipped a wrist shot high to the stick side, beating the Bears’ Frederic Cassivi.
The Bears had a chance to draw even late in the period when Dave Steckel and Boyd Kane broke out on a shorthanded 2-on-1. Kane passed to Steckel, who slid it right back to Kane, but the Bears’ captain was a bit too deep to get off a clean shot on the empty goal. Hershey got another chance at an equalizer when Norfolk’s Dustin Byfuglien went off for a double minor at 15:31. But just as the second of Byfuglien’s infractions was to expire, Kane took a double minor for roughing that carried over into the second.
The Bears killed off the first of those, but Norfolk’s James Wisniewski fired a slapper from the top of the circle to Cassivi’s right that trickled through the Bears goaltender and raised the Admirals’ lead to 2-0.
The Bears were again denied on a power play chance soon after, with Munro thwarting Eric Fehr’s backhanded breakaway bid. Five minutes into the second period, just seconds after Norfolk had snuffed the Bears on the power play for the fifth time in as many tries, the game took a strange and decided turn in Hershey’s favor.
Because of all the special teams play in the game to that point, Hershey’s Louis Robitaille hadn’t seen much ice time. He went out for a shift and immediately drew the wrath of veteran AHL enforcer Shawn Thornton, whose 2,413 career regular season penalty minutes ranks third all-time in the AHL. Thornton blew a fuse and went after Robitaille with a fervor. The linesmen stepped in to prevent Thornton from unleashing a fistic fury, and the resulting infractions (two game misconducts and a five-minute fighting major for Thornton, a two-minute roughing minor for Robitaille) put the Admirals shorthanded for a full three minutes.
“It was at the end of the power play and it was 2-0,” said Robitaille of his mindset as he took the ice for that fateful shift. “You have to choose your moment to fight and that was my time to fight. I asked Munn and I asked their middleweight to fight. I want to win my fight. Obviously you want to change momentum; you don’t want to get beat up. So I asked Munn and I asked Wisniewski and nobody wanted to be part of it. And then after the scrum I knew [Thornton] was coming after me. I had to put temper out of my head and be smart about it. He did exactly what I wanted, he dropped his glove and punched me.”
“You’ve got to hate him if you’re on the other team,” said Boudreau of Robitaille. “There are times when we hate him and he’s on our team. He is an agitator and he does his job. He takes a beating to take the abuse so the team can get and advantage here.”
A combination of strong penalty killing by Norfolk and some sloppy power play work by the Bears resulted in Hershey being outshot 2-1 during the five-minute advantage, according to the official shot clock at the Scope. But Hershey made its lone shot count. Wotton fired a shot from the point that got tangled up in traffic. Mink flipped the puck to a vacant spot at the side of the net to Munro’s left, and Kris Beech stepped up and fired the puck into the yawning cage.
Less than a minute after the Ads had killed off the remainder of Thornton’s major, Hershey’s shutdown line of Kane, Steckel and Boyd Gordon struck to even the score for the Bears. Kane and Gordon won a battle in the corner, with Gordon coming out of the fray with the puck. He slid a deft pass to the slot where Steckel’s long reach and stick suddenly appeared to thrust the puck past Munro.
Less than three minutes after Steckel’s goal, the Bears again benefited from Norfolk’s ire and lack of discipline. After Michal Barinka was whistled for holding at 13:53, the Ads compounded the issue by taking a bench minor for abusive language, giving Hershey a two-man advantage for a full two minutes. Although the Bears applied tremendous pressure throughout, Munro stopped all four Hershey shots on that power play to keep the game even at 2-2.
Fifteen seconds after Norfolk’s penalty killing success, the Admirals got a chance to regain control of the game when Hershey’s Joey Tenute went off for holding. The Bears killed that penalty without incident, sending the game into the third period with momentum hanging in the balance, waiting for a team to claim it.
Bears defenseman Mike Green
made a lunging stick save to prevent Bochenski from firing a puck into an open Hershey net early in the third, and the Bears went on a power play seconds later.
Cassivi stopped a Bochenski backhander off a semi-breakaway midway through the third, and then the Bears killed off a Norfolk power play.
With six minutes left in the third, the fulcrum of momentum finally began to shift. Laich’s line had a grinding, cycling shift in the Norfolk zone, forcing the ragged Admirals to ice the puck, leaving a set of tired defenders on the ice against Hershey’s fresh Steckel line for the ensuing face-off.
Steckel won the draw back to the point, and Dean Arsene fired it netward from the wall just above the circle to Munro’s right. It bounced off Corazzini, then hit Gordon in front before dribbling off Norfolk defenseman Brandon Rogers and past Munro. Hershey had a 3-2 lead with exactly five minutes remaining, with Gordon getting credit for his second tally of the playoffs.
“That’s the advantage of having big, strong forwards,” said Boudreau of the shift by the Laich line. “That won’t show up in the scoresheet but it was sure one of the reasons [we won]. Cullen was doing great on the draws all night, but I think he was a little tired. Steckel beat him clean and we went to the net and that was it.”
Less than two minutes later, the Bears added what would prove to be a key insurance goal. Fleischmann fed Laich with a nifty centering pass on the rush and the Bears center chipped the puck past Munro to give the Bears a two-goal lead with just 3:02 left.
Three minutes proved to be an eternity for the Bears. A mere six seconds after his goal, Laich was given a five-minute high sticking major. Suddenly, the two-goal lead wasn’t so big.
It took just 40 seconds for Nathan Barrett to bring the Admirals within a goal with his first goal of the series off a fine setup by Bochenski. Thirty-three seconds later, Matt Cullen tied it for Norfolk. At that point, the Admirals still had 1:43 of regulation time left, and still had 3:47 left on Laich’s major. The Bears managed to get out of regulation unscathed, then killed off the remaining 2:04 to start the first overtime session. All four Norfolk goals on the night came on the power play; Hershey was 1-for-10 with the extra man, the Admirals were 4-for-12.
Two minutes later, the Bears killed off another minor. The action was fast and furious in the first overtime, with both teams having chances to end the game. Beech had the best chance with two minutes left in the first overtime, but he was hauled down from behind before he could get a strong shot on goal. Hershey outshot the Ads 12-6 in the first overtime.
Each team had one shot in overtime, but Laich made his count. His game-winner came just over a minute after Norfolk’s Matt Keith rang his own game-winning bid off the post to Cassivi’s right.
As midnight drew near, Bears boarded their coach for what will surely be a boisterous ride back to Chocolatetown. Tucked somewhere on the bus among the sticks, equipment and a couple dozen happy Bears was a 3-0 series lead. Game 4 is at Giant Center in Hershey on Tuesday night. QUOTEBOOK
Boudreau on where Saturday’s win leaves his team: “One [win] away. That’s the way we look at it. This is more like the battle we expect every night. They have too much pride and too much character. If you look at the regular season for this team, they had tremendous road trips when they needed them, when they were fighting for a playoff spot. So you know the last thing that’s going through their mind is that they are going to quit. The way we’re looking at it is just taking Tuesday’ game and seeing where that leads.”
Boudreau on the importance of staying out of the penalty box: “I told them we’d had 23 minors in seven periods. We’ve got to stay out of the box or the same guys play and the same guys fatigue. Then when you have a double-overtime game, if you’ve got the same guys killing penalties all the time, you’re going to have nothing to go with.”
Robitaille on what he expected going into Saturday’s game: “I expected nothing from them today, I thought it would be a quiet game. There was no Mike Brown and Thornton was matched up against one of our good lines. He is their captain and he cost them the game by coming after me. He knows I won’t fight him and that I get under his skin.”
Laich on his high-sticking major: “After the goal, I just wanted to go back to center ice and get the puck dropped so they wouldn’t have any time to make plays. I tried to win the draw, and I haven’t seen the video so I don’t know what happened, but guys were telling me I might have gotten him with my butt end. It definitely wasn’t intentional; I’m not looking to take a penalty at that point in the game. It was an unfortunate break, it ended up cutting [Cullen] and they got a couple of goals out of it. But we never quit and that’s a testament to the character in this room.”
Laich after playing his fifth game in six nights, the fifth of them a double-overtime game: “I feel good. I’ve been drinking a lot of fluids and eating a lot of food and making sure I get my rest. I’m a little fatigued but I’m sure we’ll have tomorrow off and be able to rest then. We’ll have a short little practice on Monday and we’ll be ready to go on Tuesday. Fatigue is something you have to deal with in the playoffs. I think getting this big win tonight will really help.
Laich on his line’s shift prior to the shift that led to the Gordon goal in the third: “We’ve been talking about how we’ve got a lot of big forwards in here and if we can work their defensemen down low – guys like [Kane, Steckel, Gordon and Fehr] are hard to handle down low. Nobody likes playing down low in their own zone. We were able to wear them out there, protect the puck, and gets pucks toward the net. Next shift out, Stecks won a big draw, Deano got the shot through and Gordo tipped it home for us. Our line didn’t show up on the scoreboard on that goal, but a lot of credit goes to [Colin Forbes and Fehr] for their work down low.” NOTEBOOKAll Lined Up –
Hershey’s Saturday night lineup was identical to its Friday night lineup. Norfolk scratched defenseman Danny Richmond replacing him with Rogers. Mike Brown also sat out with Keith back in the lineup for the Admirals. Shouldering the Load –
In the first two games of the series, Hershey’s top line of Beech between Fleischmann and Mink accounted for six of the Bears’ total of eight goals in those games. Three of the tallies – two by Mink and one by Beech came on the power play. Going into Saturday night’s Game 3 action, Fleischmann was tied for second in the AHL playoff scoring race with five points. Beech and Mink were tied for fourth with four points. The Bears’ Mike Green
ranked second among all defensemen in playoff scoring with three points (all assists). Playing From Ahead –
Hershey’s ability to play with and keep the lead in the first two games of the series is impressive in light of the fact that three teams rallied from two-goal deficits to gain overtime wins in Friday night’s AHL Calder Cup playoff action. Both Hershey and Norfolk rallied from two-goal deficits on Saturday, and the Bears prevailed in the extra session. Stingy at Even Strength –
Through the first three games of the series between the Bears and Ads, Hershey has allowed just two even strength goals and eight total. Two of Norfolk’s six power play goals came with a two-man advantage … The five goals surrendered by Norfolk in Friday’s 5-2 Hershey victory and the Bears’ 5-4 win on Saturday are tied for the most allowed in a playoff game in Admirals franchise history.