Saturday’s game did not get off to a rousing start for the Bears. Mike Green
was whistled for tripping at 3:40 of the first and by the time the sides were even again, the Sound Tigers held a 7-0 advantage in shots on goal. Veteran defenseman Dean Arsene helped turn the tides a bit with a thunderous bodycheck on Bridgeport’s Masi Marjamaki.
A few minutes afterwards, the Bears offense came out of hibernation. Jared Aulin just missed converting a fine feed from Boyd Kane, but Hershey grabbed the lead just over a minute later.
The line of Tomas Fleischmann and Mink flanking Laich was the Bears’ top trio throughout the weekend. Midway through the first period of Saturday’s game, they had a great shift in the Bridgeport zone, applying pressure for the better part of a minute.
Just when it appeared the Sound Tigers would be able to clear and change, the Bears forced a turnover and kept the puck in the attack zone. Laich came up from the goal line on goaltender Wade Dubielewicz’s left and spotted defenseman Lawrence Nycholat in the high slot. Nycholat was waving his stick and Laich fed him, setting him up for a sharp wrist shot that eluded Dubielewicz high on the glove side. Fleischmann drew the other assist.
Seconds later, the Bears were down a man again when Arsene was sent off for cross-checking. This gave the Bears’ top penalty killing duo of Dave Steckel and Kane a chance to shine. They killed the penalty and created a scoring chance of their own in the process.
A few minutes after killing the penalty to Arsene, the Bears’ ability to protect their slim lead was tested again when the team was forced to kill off a two-man advantage for 43 seconds. It’s always interesting to note who gets sent out in a 3-on-5 situation, because you know the coach has a great deal of trust and faith in those players. In this case, Steckel took the defensive zone draw (and won it) and was backed up by defensemen Nycholat and Mark Wotton.
The Bears got through the 43 seconds without allowing a shot on goal although Bridgeport’s David Masse did hit the post just as the two-man advantage expired. Once again, Steckel managed to create a shorthanded scoring chance before the Bears were back at even strength.
Although they had been outshot 12-8 and hadn’t played their best hockey, the Bears took a 1-0 lead with them to the locker room at intermission. Just under four minutes into the second period, they would add to that lead.
Laich and an opponent were engaged along the wall in the neutral zone with the puck at their feet. We’ll let Laich take it from here.
“The second one was in the neutral zone just trying to battle and win the battle on the wall,” he remembered after the game. “I spun off my guy and chipped it by the defenseman and then Flash was the guy who made the play. He fed it across to Minker and he had a wide open net.”
In chipping the puck past the defenseman to Fleischmann, Laich had created a 2-on-1. Fleischmann fed Mink perfectly and he drilled a one-timer into the net.
Less than a minute after Mink’s goal, the Bears had a chance to open it up. Eric Fehr was hauled down from behind on a breakaway and given a penalty shot. He skated in on Dubielewicz and fired but the puck sailed just over the crossbar.
The Bears were forced to kill a couple more penalties in the middle portion of the second, with Boyd Gordon and Owen Fussey shining and creating a scoring chance during their time on the job. Green gets kudos for cracking a Bridgeport crease-squatter, too.
Just as the second of those two penalties was expiring, Laich took off up the middle with the puck and was hauled down from behind. The Hershey fans were treated to a real rarity, a second penalty shot for the home team in a span of just 8:30. Laich skated in and deked Dubielewicz nicely. He went to his backhand but didn’t get enough on the shot and the puck trickled away harmlessly. Bridgeport had dodged another bullet.
“I was just glad it didn’t go to a shootout because don’t even know if we got a shot on goal on those two penalty shots,” Boudreau cracked after the game. “But the guys had to work hard to get them and it’s exciting for the crowd. When they happened and they didn’t go in, I thought, ‘Uh-oh.’ We missed two penalty shots and you could tell our power play wasn’t clicking very well today. I was worried going into the third period.”
Boudreau had good reason to worry. The Bears had taken two more penalties in rapid succession at the end of the second. Martin Wilde’s hooking penalty spilled over into the third. When Wotton went off for interference at the 18-second mark of the third, the Bears were looking at a two-man disadvantage for 1:13.
They killed off the first 40 seconds of that stretch uneventfully, with goaltender Freddie Cassivi making a save and Nycholat popping a Sound Tiger who encroached on the crease after a whistle. But Bridgeport managed to dent Cassivi at the 58-second mark. Cassivi stopped a pair of quick shots before Steve Regier managed to beat him on the third one.
The Bears got a chance to restart their moribund offense when Bridgeport’s Tomi Pettinen went off for high-sticking at 4:08. Since Mink’s goal to give Hershey a 2-0 lead early in the second, the Bears had managed just three shots on goal over a span of 20:13.
Hershey sustained pressure in the Bridgeport end but did not get shots on goal over the first half of the power play. They managed four shots in the final minute, and were denied a glorious chance when Dubielewicz robbed Fleischmann after the speedy Bears’ winger split the defense and came in all alone.
Cassivi protected the slim 2-1 lead, helping the Bears withstand a Bridgeport barrage midway through the period. He made two big stops just before the 11:10 mark, and that would be all the Sound Tigers would muster in the way of offense. The Hershey defense would not allow Bridgeport close enough to Cassivi for so much as a shot on goal the rest of the way.
On a late power play chance, Laich set up Jakub Klepis with a beautiful thread-the-needle pass. But Klepis could not convert and the Sound Tigers still had life.
Just after the teams went back to even strength, Steckel won a battle for a loose puck in the corner and fired a sharp cross-ice pass out front where Kane was waiting. The veteran let go a wrister that found the net to give Hershey a 3-1 lead with just 2:19 to play. The goal was Kane’s seventh of the season; he had nine in 58 games with the Calder Cup champion Philadelphia Phantoms in 2004-05.
Owen Fussey added an empty-netter to close out the scoring in a 4-1 Hershey win. The goal, Fussey’s first of the year, provided some relief for the snake-bitten winger. It also provided some comic relief in Boudreau’s postgame press conference.
“If he had missed that one, I think I would have had to take the razor blades away from him,” said the Bears’ bench boss. “We were sitting on bated breath. We were like, ‘Don’t hop over his stick.’
“That’s the one good thing about a team. On the bench, everybody was so happy for him. And in the room everybody was so happy for him. If he would have passed it, I would have been mad at him. He is a guy who was I think the third leading scorer in Portland last year. He has been snakebit since the beginning [of this season]. Maybe it’s something that will get him off the slide and he will start scoring with a little bit of regularity.”
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Hershey’s Saturday night performance was that it was able to win against a divisional foe despite not playing its best game.
“We find a way to win,” said Laich after the game. “We get consistent goaltending, which helps. Against a better team, we might not have come out with a win in that game. We know we’re taking too many penalties right now. The last two games prior to this one we’ve taken nine each game so we have to cut that down. We work hard in practice and we do lot of skating at the end of practice. We’re a third period team and I think we outskated them tonight. They looked a little bit tired going into the third period and at the end of the third period we just wore them down. That’s how we got our third goal.”
Boudreau was happy with the two points but admitted his players can and must play better.
“[Cassivi] keeps us in the game and then we get an opportune time to score and we score,” said Boudreau by way of summing up the contest. “By no stretch did I think we outplayed them and deserved a 4-1 looking victory. If you look at it, you [think], ‘Oh wow, they won 4-1. It’s pretty easy.’ But we have to play better if we want to continue this kind of success. I think the last five or six games, other than one or two of them, we have been too up and down. We have to play at a higher standard.”
Laich echoed Boudreau’s thoughts.
“We want to have a certain level of play that we bring every night,” said the center, who was recalled by Washington for the team’s West Coast trip this week. “When you have your ‘A’ game, it’s your ‘A’ game. But you’re not going to have your ‘A’ game every night. You have to be consistent with a structured game. Some nights you can’t control it. Some nights there are [bad] bounces and things go wrong. It’s the nature of the sport.
“Everyone played hard. We got pucks out, we got pucks in. We really wanted to work their defensemen and we were able to do that. We would have liked to play with a little more energy; I thought we came out a little bit flat in the first period. We got the two points, which is big for us.”
Cassivi was asked afterwards if he had any sympathy for the opposing goaltender, who had to stare down two penalty shots in the same game. The reply didn’t take long.
“No,” he declared. “I had to face a [lot] of penalty kills and a couple of 5-on-3s.
“Some games we are going to score a little bit more, some games we’re not. For me, it’s out of my control. I just have to worry about my own game and not give up any goals. Whether we score 10 or zero I have to try to keep them out of the net. The defensemen have been really good in front of me and as a team we have been good defensively. So on the nights when we don’t score too many goals, that’s going to help us out.”
The win was Hershey’s fourth in a row and its third straight over Bridgeport this season. The Sound Tigers would hang around for Sunday’s game, the third in three nights and the fourth in five nights for both teams.