Soon after the time-out, Bourque drew a penalty but once again, the Bears’ vaunted power play failed to produce. It was the 12th straight power play on which Hershey had failed to score, a drought of almost epic proportions given the prodigious rate at which the Bears has scored throughout the 2005-06 season.
With less than six minutes left in the second, the line of Laich, Mink and Tomas Fleischmann had a strong shift in the Bridgeport zone, drawing an interference minor in the process. That trio stayed out to start the resulting power play but could not get anything started. A group featuring Jared Aulin, Eric Fehr and Tenute then went out and failed to get a shot on goal.
With 17 seconds left on the advantage, Boudreau sent Dave Steckel, Boyd Kane and Louis Robitaille onto the ice to finish up. Steckel won the draw and began working the puck around but before the Bears could muster a shot, the puck laid loose in front of the Bridgeport net. A Sound Tigers defenseman moved up to clear the puck but just as he touched it, the long arm and stick of the lanky Steckel reached in and snatched the puck away. Steckel got it to Kane who shoveled it back to the point where Mark Wotton lined up a one-timer. He blasted it from the point and beat Dubielewicz. There was just one second remaining on the power play. The three grinders had put a stop to Hershey’s short power play skid.
With less than two minutes left in the period, the Bears failed to cash in on an opportunity to grab the lead. After losing his stick in the Hershey end, Aulin skated to the bench for a replacement. He caught up with his mates just in time to take a pass and fire a one-timer that caught the left goalpost dead solid. The rebound went right to Tenute but Dubielewicz robbed his bid for the go-ahead tally.
Although they had not put the Sound Tigers away, the Bears had battened down the hatches. From the time Boudreau exercised his timeout at 7:29 until the end of the period, the Bears allowed the Sound Tigers just one harmless shot on goal, and that one came in the final minute of the stanza.
Just 20 more minutes of hockey stood between Hershey and a well-deserved rest after a rugged stretch of four games in five days. The Bears wasted little time in taking control. Just over a minute into the third period, Wotton took the puck behind the Hershey goal. He moved it to partner Dean Arsene along the left wall, and Arsene skated it into neutral ice before sending it to Fehr. Fehr gained the offensive zone before dishing a neat pass to Bourque in the high slot. Bourque ripped a wrist shot that beat Dubielewicz up high to give the Bears a 3-2 lead.
Midway through the period the Sound Tigers got a chance to draw even when Hershey’s Lawrence Nycholat went off for interference. Bridgeport managed only one shot on its power play and Steckel prevented any more when he singlehandedly nullified the final 20 seconds of the advantage. On the forecheck in the corner of the Bridgeport end, Steckel occupied three Sound Tigers as the final seconds of the power play ticked away.
Steckel fittingly finished the Sound Tigers when he deposited his eighth goal of the season into the vacant Bridgeport net with just 53 seconds remaining. With the 4-2 win over Bridgeport, the Bears had run their winning streak to a season-high five games.
After the game, Boudreau agreed that Steckel earned his empty-netter.
“The kid deserves it,” he said. “You see how hard he works. There is no doubt in my mind he is going to play in the NHL some day just on work ethic and energy alone. He’s got eight of them and he doesn’t get any power play time so that is quite a testament to him. He just comes to play. No matter how many games you play in a row, you can count on Dave Steckel to be there and play good.”
It was also Steckel’s work that produced the game-tying power play goal late in the second period, another tally that merited mention in Boudreau’s postgame press conference.
“It was great, because our power play was struggling,” noted the Hershey coach. “That’s going to happen at times over the course of the year. Very few times have we gone 0-for-8 on the power play and I think we were 0-for-9 in yesterday’s game and today’s game. To score that goal was big and I was really happy for Chris [Bourque] to score a goal. We spread it around a bit. It was good stuff.”
For the third time in five days and the fourth time in a dozen days, the Bears had downed the Sound Tigers. Hershey won’t see Bridgeport again until Jan. 6 when it visits the Sound Tigers for the first of a four-game road trip. Boudreau said his team did not focus on the familiarity factor in taking care of business against Bridgeport.
“We never mentioned at all – all week – that it was the same team,” he said. “We just wanted to play our game. We don’t change it up too much to compensate for what the other team does. We want to do what we do real well. The only thing it does is it really creates a dislike for one another when you play each other that often. I think if the rules were different, if this was last year, there would have been quite a lot of fights. You saw the verbal and the trash talking that was going on. My ears were tired. I am sure there is quite a bit of dislike for each other.”
Nycholat was happy to have the Sound Tigers in the rear-view and even happier with the pair of wins.
“It’s a little difficult to see the same team three times in the same week,” admitted the Bears’ defenseman. “But everyone has to go through it. We got the wins and now we don’t have to worry about them for a while.”
Boudreau game some props to the Sound Tigers, a hard-working team whose skill level falls short of that of the Bears.
“I think it was a really gutty game, on their part too,” Boudreau observed. “They only had five [defensemen] and it was a tough game for them and they shortened their bench. It’s tough to win a lot, to mentally get up for every game. And I thought our guys, when push came to shove in the third period of both games when you needed it the most, I thought they really came through. That’s kudos to them and their mental strength. We had a little lull for about seven minutes in the second period but once that sort of thing ended we came on pretty strong.”
Boudreau had what he wanted, namely two points. And what he needed, namely a week of practice before Hershey’s next game so he and Woods could clear away some of the team’s bad habits. For the short term though, Boudreau’s mid-game reminder after the timeout had enabled him to refocus his team and light just enough fire for the win.
“The two words we had on the board before the game were ‘initiate’ and ‘dictate,’” Boudreau revealed. “In other words, we want to initiate what the play is and we want to dictate what happens out on the ice. We were letting them do that to us. I just sort of reminded them, ‘Let’s get back to doing what we do best.’
“There were two prolonged shifts near the end where they had the puck in our zone, but they didn’t have great chances off it. And when they did, Freddie was there. And that’s what great goaltending does for you.”
The coaching was pretty good, too.