Alexandre Giroux scored 13:28 into overtime on Friday to give the Hershey Bears a 2-1 win in game five of their best of seven series that now has the Chocolate and White up three games to two, after dropping the opening two tilts of this AHL Finals series at the Giant Center. A sold out game 6 will be played on Monday night in Hershey and it will also be televised on Comcast Sports Net in the Mid-Atlantic region. The Bears are attempting to win their first Calder Cup on home ice in 30 years so you can bet that Chocolate Town will be buzzing on Monday. If Texas wins game six, and they won both games six and seven on the road in their last series against Hamilton (not to mention a game 7 victory on the road in round two vs. Chicago), a game seven would be played on Wednesday night at the Giant Center.
Now to the highlights and analysis from the Bears third win in three tries at Cedar Park Center in this AHL Championship series:
- Giroux definitely appears to get a little slower each time I see him and for most of the series the strength of his game, his hands and his ability to get off quick shots, had abandoned him. But the magic touch of number 12 was ever present on the game winning goal, which he notched by firing the puck five hole on Stars goalie Matt Climie (41 saves), after getting back the biscuit after his initial shot was batted into the air.
- After last Saturday night’s loss to the Stars that put Hershey down 2-0, Bears Coach Mark French talked about his team simplifying their game. Specifically he wanted them to get the puck deep, cycle it, and fire shots on net. They did that in the last two periods of game three, most of game four, and pretty much all of game five but Climie was the primary reason that this one went so late into overtime. Credit this victory to patience and commitment. Despite the fact that they could not solve the Texas goalkeeper, Hershey, for the most part, resisted the urge to bail on their game plan and start getting fancy. It is a lesson that should be well learned by every Bears player and hopefully any Washington Capitals player who tuned in to this tilt that was picked up by the NHL Network and shown across North America.
- Remember all that talk about John Carlson being worn out from playing so many big games this season? Well you can throw that out the window after this one. #4 played his best game of the series and looked like the guy who finished the NHL season with the Caps. Carlson was solid in his own end and was not fighting the puck. Clearly the game winning goal he notched on Wednesday in game four helped get his confidence back. The American Hero was on for both Hershey tallies tonight and was a +2
- Chris Bourque was all over the ice again and it was his rush, right as a Francis Waither penalty was expiring, that set up the game tying goal in period two. #17 took the puck end to end, fed Francois Bouchard all alone in the slot, and #22 buried it upstairs on Climie. Bourque creates things when he is on the ice but he does make the occassional turnover trying to make too much happen. Sometimes he scares me with the puck at the top of the blue line, especially since his ill advised drop pass led to the Texas game winning goal in the series opener, but he seems to be doing a better job of picking his spots to make the more riskier, highly skilled maneuvers.
- There were only two power plays for each team but Texas scored on their first one in just 18 seconds. After game four I mentioned that the Bears had to adjust their PK because the Stars were exploiting the top of the Hershey box. Well, tonight they did it again scoring from the left point. It seems that Hershey wants to force the Texas shooters to take their blue line blasts away from the middle of the ice, and that is a good strategy in theory, but what is happening is the penalty killer on the top right for Hershey is getting beat, allowing the Texas shooter to come in closer to the top of the left wing circle for great scoring chances. On the second Stars power play they had the puck in the Bears zone for almost all of the first 100 seconds and if not for some good stops by Michal Neuvirth (35 saves), they would have been perfect with the man advantage on the evening. The PK is the biggest opportunity for improvement for Hershey after game five.
- Neuvirth was outstanding again and should he win this series that would give him back to back AHL titles. Clearly he and Semyon Varlamov will be the goaltending tandem in DC this fall, barring any trades. About the only thing that bugs you with #30 is his puck handling skills, something hopefully he can improve on this summer.
- Bears defenseman Greg Amadio took a puck in the nose at the end of the second period but returned and played well in the third period and the OT.
- Mathieu Perreault nearly was the hero with about four minutes left in regulation when it appeared he had an open net, but his shot to the cage was blocked by the stick of Stars defenseman Ethan Graham.
- John Walton, the Bears Senior Manager of Communications, noted that Hershey has won their last four Calder Cups on the road. Hopefully Walton, who did a great job all week on TV with ABC-27′s Gregg Mace broadcasting the games from Texas, will have one more “Good morning, good afternoon, and good night Texas!” chant in him this week.