The Hershey Bears attempt to win the Calder Cup on home ice for the first time in 29 years did not happen on Tuesday night as the Manitoba Moose snuck out of town with a 3-2 victory and both teams will head back to Winnipeg with Hershey leading the series three games to two. Game 6 is Friday night and if the Bears don’t win that one then a seventh and final deciding game will also be played Sunday from Winnipeg.
Coach Bob Woods’ crew threw everything they could at Manitoba Moose goalie Cory Schneider in the first 35 plus minutes outshooting their opponents 21-7 but they had nothing to show for it. Then defensemen Karl Alzner and Dean Arsene had a miscommunication behind the Hershey net and Moose forward Michael Grabner pounced on the puck and put it past goalie Michal Neuvirth. 73 seconds later it was 2-0 Manitoba as 2008 1st round draft pick, Cory Hodgson, put one top shelf past Neuvirth to stun the Hershey crowd.
The Bears would come back hard in the third period and a Graham Mink score brought the Bears within a goal with just 4:17 gone. Then when the Bears received their first and ONLY power play with 3:32 to go, it looked like Hershey might tie things up. However, just after the Moose killed the penalty and a blatant slashing penalty was not called on Manitoba (Keith Aucoin’s stick was broken in front of the net), Jason Krog shot the puck into the empty net from just inside his blue line to make it 3-1 with 1:21 remaining. To Hershey’s credit, they still did not quit and defenseman John Carlson’s goal with 31 seconds left gave the team hope as the Bears desperately tried to send the game to overtime.
It has been a long day driving up and back to Hershey so here are some thoughts and notes on the contest:
Schneider (31 saves) stole this one for Manitoba with his excellent goaltending. If not for him it is at least 2-0 Hershey at the midway point of this contest and the Calder Cup parties are ready to be started. After the first period, in which the Bears totally dominated and Schneider made 12 saves, I half-jokingly told Moose goaltending coach Rick St. Croix that he ought to get a raise for his work. Manitoba Coach Scott Arniel started his post game press conference by thanking and praising his goaltender, and rightly so.
The officiating in this one was putrid, at best. Both coaches mentioned it in their post game media sessions. Arniel said this game was called differently than the other four and that the players had to adjust. Woods said that the way the contest was officiated favored Manitoba because they were more physical and struggle to skate with the Bears. How bad was it? There was not a single power play for either team until Aucoin was called for slashing with 6:02 left in regulation. It is hard to believe that referee Frederic L’Ecuyer called that one on an icing play and let go the slash that broke Aucoin’s stick in front of the net late in regulation. He also called a diving penalty on Bears forward Steve Pinnizzoto at the same time he called a hook on Shaun Heshka. It was a clear hook to prevent a Hershey odd man rush so once again the zebra made a mistake. L’Ecuyer should not be allowed to officiate another Calder Cup playoff game, in my opinion.
Alexandre Giroux once again did not show me that he was the AHL’s MVP this season. Woods called him out in his post game press conference for not shooting enough. After watching Giroux in games 4 and 5 I have a hard time seeing how he scored 60 goals in the regular season and 14 so far in these playoffs. He does not skate well and his decision making was questionable in the two games I attended.
Defenseman Staffan Kronwall was really good for the Bears on Tuesday night. This was the best I’ve ever seen #28 play. His first stride was quick all evening and always in the right direction. He was a tower of strength defensively for Hershey and he was good in the offensive zone as well. He really showed me something these last two games.
Hershey did not do a good job of going to the net to get the ugly goals. At times they reminded me of this season’s Caps in that they overpassed the puck and shot from the perimeter too much. Mink does a good job of storming the crease but they need some others to go there too and pay the price.
After the game Alzner admitted that the team may have been distracted too much by trying to win the series at home and he thinks getting out of town to play the next game will do the team well as they will be focused totally on hockey.
“I think so, it is tough when it is the end of the year. I see a few guys just so excited to have people in town and it could be it, the end of the season and you get to go home with a championship so obviously there are tons of distractions here so it stinks that it has to go to Manitoba but I don’t think it is a bad thing,” said Alzner when asked if going away for games 6 and 7 (if necessary) will help Hershey.
Arniel made an adjustment to his game plan by having two forwards pressure the Hershey defensemen in their own zone and try to force them to make long passes to their teammates. The former Buffalo Sabre forward said he was trying to prevent the Bears from getting the speed and flow they like to typically bring into the offensive zone. The strategy worked at times, primarily because of Schneider, but Hershey did get some odd man rushes that they just didn’t finish on.
“When we got the puck we wanted to keep going. We didn’t want to take any time behind the net, we wanted to get our feet moving and make plays off the wall, chip it in deep, and then get on their D. It was tough, they changed their style of game from game three to game four and from four to five again. So it is pretty clear they were doing things differently and it worked out for them tonight but we are going to counter now, if we can,” finished Alzner.
One final thought: The wrong Pennsylvania team won tonight as I listened on the drive back to Ellicott City to the Penguins knock off the Red Wings, 2-1, to force a game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals in Detroit on Friday night.