After dropping the first two games in Hershey, Bears Coach Mark French talked about his team showing more discipline and sticking to what his staff was his instructing his players to do in order to knock off the Texas Stars and get back into their best of seven series. For 20 minutes, Hershey continued to ignore their bench boss taking four minor penaties and making mental mistakes en route to a 3-1 first period deficit. Then the second period didn’t start much better as defenseman Greg Amadio took a stupid slashing penalty and with the Stars going to the power play things looked bleak for Hershey.
However, Bears goalie Michal Neuvirth (27 saves) made some big stops and around the midpoint of the contest the club that had won 60 regular season and 12 playoff contests in 2009-10 started to show up. Texas d-man Ethan Graham lost his composure and elbowed Mathieu Perreault in front of the Stars goal to put the Chocolate and White on the power play. Up until that point, the Hershey power play was on a 0 for 16 stretch, and they even gave up a shorthanded goal in period one when Neuvirth misplayed the puck and Francis Waither tapped home a very early Christmas gift.
But 2009-10 AHL MVP, Keith Aucoin, who had been struggling through the first seven periods of this series, took control splitting two Stars while getting slashed repeatedly and then he threaded a pass in front to Kyle Wilson, who banged it home to awaken the explosive Bears. Hershey did not let up and just over a minute later Karl Alzner fired a pass to Perreault who tapped it home at the right post to tie this one up. The Bears would continue to storm the Stars in those final 10 minutes but they could not get the lead, setting up a critical 20 minutes for the boys from Chocolate Town. It was either win the final 20 minutes or find themselves on the verge of elimination.
French’s club then delivered their best period of the series scoring three times within six minutes in the middle of the stanza with the first goal by Andrew Gordon being set up by another nifty play from Aucoin. That game winning tally by Gordon was followed up by Perreault’s second marker of the night on a slick pass by Alexandre Giroux just 91 seconds later. Gordon then sealed the deal by delivering a big hit behind the Stars net and then deflecting home an Alzner point blast to make it 6-3 with 7:53 remaining.
Here is my analysis of a huge win for Hershey, who now have a chance to even up this best of seven series at two games a piece on Wednesday night (Shown at 830pm on Comcast SportsNet in the Mid-Atlantic region):
- Even though Wilson, Gordon, and Perreault all notched two tallies each, my player of the game was Aucion. #11 was clearly MIA in the first two games but the undersized forward found his legs in game three and used his speed to set up two key goals. His unbelievable individual effort to feed Wilson for the second Bears goal could end up, in retrospect, being the play that turns the whole series around. In addition, he was patient with the puck and didn’t make the bad decisions with the biscuit that plagued him at the Giant Center in the first two tilts.
- The key for Hershey was following Coach French’s game plan of getting the puck deep and cycling it to create opportunities. As Jay Beagle told me following game two, the Bears needed to generate chances below the dots. The first five goals for the Chocolate and White came from in front of Stars goalie Matt Climie (23 saves) and Hershey did a nice job of not blindly throwing the puck into the slot and choosing instead to move it to the point for longer blasts while going for rebounds and deflections. French’s crew was not only rewarded for their patience but it also seemed to wear a big Stars defense out as they spent much of their effort chasing the Bears forwards in the corners and behind the net. In fact, over the last 30 minutes Texas seemed to be skating in cement.
- French split his top two lines up after it went -2 in period one moving Bourque up to the top line and Giroux down to the second unit. That appeared to get both Aucoin and Giroux going. Perreault, who was skating and scrapping all over the ice, seemed to gell with the slower Giroux while #17 added some more speed with Aucoin to go with Gordon, a natural power forward who is not afraid to go to the cage.
- Defensemen John Carlson and Alzner both struggled through the first seven periods with #4 just not looking himself. Carlson got caught pinching on the third goal and King Karl did not do the job of cutting off the pass on the resulting two on one break giving Neuvirth little chance on Raymond Sawada’s goal that made it 3-1 Stars. However, Alzner was much better in period two and despite a bad giveaway by WJC Hero Carlson after the Bears tied things up, he rebounded to have a very strong final stanza. #7 and #4 really looked like the top pairing in the AHL in the final 20 minutes, something that will need to continue in order for the Bears to come back and win the Calder Cup.
- Discipline is still an issue for Hershey. They allowed seven Stars power plays and that is far too many. Texas is trying to get the Bears to retaliate and in the first period Hershey was a victim of the Stars head games. Even in the third period, when Hershey took over, they took some careless minors and Amadio and Patrick Wellar also got involved with Texas captain Landon Wilson. French’s crew needs to stick to their game plan and stay away from the post whistle scrums. They clearly frustrated the Stars over the last 30 minutes with their desire, skill, and willingness to work hard in the cycle game and battle to the net.