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Caps Wisely Quiet on Day 1 of NHL Free Agency

Posted on 02 July 2010 by Ed Frankovic

NHL free agency began on Thursday, July 1st and the Washington Capitals did not make a single signing. Based on the dollars and length of contracts being inked on day one, it appears to me that Caps GM George McPhee was very wise to stay out of the bidding wars and prevented himself from overpaying for a player that the organization might regret acquiring in a few months or a year or so down the road (see Michael Nylander in 2007).

There has been a lot of talk about the Caps needing a second line center and some even want a physical defenseman to improve the back end. I have been an advocate of another player at center ice but given that the Sharks Patrick Marleua re-upped in San Jose there was not what anyone would call a blue chip player to be inked starting Thursday at noon. One of the next best options appeared to be Matt Cullen from Ottawa, but he hit the jackpot getting $10.5 over three years from the Minnesota Wild. At this late hour, not much is left on the center market, and the player some are calling the best pivot man available, Matthew Lombardi of Phoenix, is asking for $4M plus. In the immortal words of Jeff Spicoli and his stoner buds from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I say, “No Dice!” to that figure.

On defense, there were some big signings, such as former Nashville Predators blue liner Dan Hamhuis cashing in for $27M over six years in Vancouver. In addition, the New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Ottawa Senators essentially “traded” defensemen with Sergei Gonchar going to Ottawa, Anton Volchenkov moving to New Jersey, and Paul Martin headed to the Steel City. The Penguins also gave former Phoenix Coyotes d-man Zybnek Michalek $20M over five years. In summary, each of these moves was for too much money and too long in terms of years.

Other acquisitions by some NHL general managers were bordering on ridiculous,  especially the Toronto Maple Leafs signing of third line forward Colby Armstrong for $9M for 3 years or the New York Rangers inking fourth line heavyweight Derek Boogaard for $6.5M for four years. Basically, it was a crazy day and those teams that didn’t spend a large sum of money or none at all, were the winners.

Back to the Caps. Just because McPhee did nothing on July 1st, and he hinted at that possibility when he was on the Comcast Morning Show on WNST on Wednesday morning, doesn’t mean the roster is set with what they finished the season with personnel-wise. There are still three more months before the season starts and seven months until the NHL trade deadline. Sure the team and its fans are disappointed with the round one playoff failure this past spring and there is certainly more heat on both McPhee and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau for the 2010-11 season, but the bottom line is the Capitals still have a young team with a great deal of talent that should continue to mature and improve. 

Yes, the club needs to get tougher and grittier, especially in front of both nets, but to go out and throw caution to the wind in free agency would have been a “panic” move. Looking inside the organization first for improvements, makes the most sense. Washington’s farm team, the two time defending AHL Champion Hershey Bears, definitely has some players up front that warrant further evaluation such as center Mathieu Perreault and wingers Andrew Gordon and Steve Pinizzotto. Jay Beagle and even Chris Bourque could be guys who have outside shots to make the club in training camp, as well. Both McPhee and Boudreau have already pretty much stated that d-men Karl Alzner and John Carlson will be up full time during 2010-11 and that instantly improves a blue line crew that had its issues, at times, this past season. Another player who the squad will keep an eye on at development camp and then in September is 2009 1st round pick Marcus Johansson (center), but given that he is only 19 and the Caps don’t like to rush young players to the NHL, that possibility appears to be a much longer shot.

The reason so many of the aforementioned players will get a good look in September is because Washington has already indicated that several skaters from the roster, such as Joe Corvo, Eric Belanger, Scott Walker, Brendan Morrison, Shaone Morrisonn, and Milan Jurcina will very likely not be back with the club. Therefore, just because there were no July 1 acquisitions does not mean McPhee and company are going with the same crew they had last season when they won the Presidents’ Trophy, change is going to occur by attrition and internal promotion alone. The question still remains, and likely will do so for several months, what will the Caps bring in from outside of the organziaton for 2010-11, if anything at all? That answer is as clear as mud right now, but McPhee appears to be sticking with an astute plan of “Right player, right price” at this juncture. Stay tuned.

Note: For all of my instant thoughts on free agency and the NHL, please follow me on twitter (@Emfrank123). I had several tweets this evening that formed the basis for this blog, all available at twitter now.

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Hershey Bears Revel Following Unbelievable Season

Posted on 20 June 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The 2009-10 Hershey Bears set an AHL record with 60 wins and fell one point shy of another league record (the Binghamton Rangers had 124 points in 1992-93), but all of that would have pretty much been an afterthought had they not gone on to win the Calder Cup, especially after the Chocolate and White had achieved that feat in 2008-09. When Hershey, who began the finals coming off of a second long layoff in this year’s playoffs, fell behind two games to none by dropping two contests on home ice to open the AHL Championship series, the task of defending their Calder Cup title seemed daunting, especially since no AHL team had ever rallied from that type of deficit in league history. But this Bears team was no ordinary one and a group led by Captain Bryan Helmer won the next four contests to complete what many players called “an unbelievable season” as they celebrated in their building with the league trophy immediately following the series winning victory. It was the first time in 30 years that Hershey fans were able to witness the Cup clinching by their beloved team live in their city.

Unbelievable was a word that those of us who were fortunate to be down on the Giant Center ice covering the revelry (h/t to the great John Walton) heard from many, to include AHL Playoffs MVP Chris Bourque, 2010 USA World Junior Hero John Carlson, and center Mathieu Perreault.

“Obviously I am happy about the MVP but the big trophy is the Calder Cup. It’s unbelievable, three times in five years is not bad, you don’t see that too often so it’s unreal. You have to give credit to all of these guys, they’ve been unreal all season and it was a fun ride,” said Bourque, who won the Jack A. Butterfield trophy as MVP of the AHL Playoffs and also has been on the the last three Hershey Calder Cup winning squads.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s what you play for as a hockey player. It never gets old. Every time it is just a thrill. It’s unbelievable,” added Carlson, the man who broke the hearts of many Canadians with his overtime game winning tally in the 2010 World Junior Championships this past January, on winning another title.

“It’s unbelievable. We won it last year, it was different, at home it is so much better with the crowd, everything, it’s unbelievable!” said an excited Perreault, just prior to drinking a Molson as a part of his Cup celebration (thanks to John Keeley of On Frozen Blog for a great photo).

So why did this Hershey Bears team continue to do the “seemingly undoable” and complete the unbelievable season with a dramatic come from behind series victory? Sure the Chocolate and White had lots of talent, but hockey history is littered with numerous instances of highly talented teams being knocked off in the post season after great regular season achievements.  Winning championships takes more than talent, it takes commitment, patience, team play, and a group of players that bond together to form great chemistry.

Early on in this series the Texas Stars were winning because of their strategy of sitting back and capitalizing on Hershey turnovers, primarily at the Texas blue line. After game two Hershey Coach Mark French stated that if his team didn’t heed the advice of his coaching staff, which asked the players to get the puck on net or below the circles so they could get their cycle game going, then the Stars would get to four wins before his club did. French was requesting that his highly talented squad change their game and play a more difficult and boring style for them, but when you have great leadership and chemistry, those type of changes, in the middle of a series, are acheivable. The spread of that message started with a closed door, players only meeting, run by a phenomenal leader in Helmer before game three. It was after that opening period in the third contest, with the Bears trailing 3-1, where the change in style started translating into goals on the ice.

“We have unbelievable leadership. Bryan Helmer, that’s the turning point of the series – we had a closed door meeting, players only. It just goes to show how much of a leader he is, he is our captain, he got the boys going and it showed the next game. We won, we scored five unanswered goals and we didn’t really look back after that. It wasn’t an easy series to win. Texas played really good, they have some good players in there and I’m just happy to be on the good side of winning,” said Bourque, who showed great leadership himself by not pouting about being a salary cap casualty by the Caps to open the season or being released by the Penguins after an extended stint in the NHL and coming down to Hershey and dominating the AHL.

“This is what we are made of and the leadership on this team is unbelievable. The Captain stood up after the second game and talked to the boys and he got us going. At that point we all knew we were going to win,” said Perreault, who will be given a good chance to make the Capitals out of training camp this upcoming September.

“You look back, we are down 2 games to nothing, 3-1 in the second period, it didn’t look good, but guys never gave up in this locker room. We knew that we had the character and the talent to get it done. We stuck with it, when we look back at what we did this year as a team it’s gonna be unreal,” said 2009-10 AHL regular season MVP Keith Aucoin, who set up the second goal in game three by Kyle Wilson with a sensational individual play to start the series comeback.

Talking about making a change is one thing, but the players took the strategy from Coach French and the message from Captain Helmer and translated it into production on the ice. They stopped making east-west passes inside the Stars zone and focused on dumping the puck to the corners to set up a cycle game that wore out Texas. Hershey was then able to send the puck to wide open point men who fired it on the cage while Bears forwards swarmed the net for rebounds. Combine that style of play with super goaltending from Michal Neuvirth and you have the recipe for defeating an opponent’s trapping, defensive style of play.

“I think it was just guys coming this far and not being happy with losing two games at home. We didn’t work as hard as we did to squander away something like this. It is just a big credit to the group of guys that we have and the way everything was put together. The coaches did a great job keeping our spirits up. For me that plane ride [to Texas], I wasn’t down at all, I knew we had it in us. It was just a matter of getting a little bit of the rust off. The coaches noticed it right away. We knew that [Texas] was a good transition team and we are a team that likes to go on the offense and we learned in a hurry that you can’t [turn the puck over at their blue line]. When you are giving up three breakaways a game and four two-on-ones a game, they’re not scoring and not beating you off of that then we’re getting really lucky. So they really stuck it to us the first [two games], we figured it out in a hurry, just in the nick of time,” said Karl Alzner on what his team did to turn things around between games two and three.

“That is why we struggled the first two games, we are a skilled team that likes to make passes inside the blue line and against a team like that where they sit back, with three or four guys back all of the time, we are going to turn the puck over and they are going to come down and score. We had to change our game and that is why we were successful, we turn it around by getting the puck to the net, getting guys crashing the net and getting rebounds and that is why we were successful the last four games. It shows the character of our guys to change their games to make sure we get wins,” added Aucoin, who mentioned that he and linemates, Alexandre Giroux and Andrew Gordon felt the pressure after the first two tilts, to start contributing more.

The strategy opened up things for the point men and all four tallies in game six came from blue liners.

“We’ve been stressing [getting the puck to the points] because that is what is open against these teams that want to collapse here, your D are open and we were very opportunistic. Patty McNeill with two and Karl Alzner with one, it was great to see and John Carlson scored on the power play so not bad as well,” said Coach French.

Overall, the strategic adjustments and the leadership formed the basis for the rally, according to Coach French.

“I think there was a little bit of [of the strategy change] and I think at the end of the day the guys just had to lay it on the line a little bit more and go a bit deeper. The guys had a players only meeting in Texas. One person talked, and it certainly wasn’t me, it was our captain, and I believe that was probably the turning point in terms of understanding what we had to do to win a game and how deep we really had to go as a group to win,” concluded French.

If you ask me, this group forms the blueprint for the makings of a championship team and players, coaches, and management confirmed that with their thoughts as the Cup was paraded around the Giant Center last Monday night.

“The team that we had was just great, can’t say enough about the guys, everyone came together. It’s a group of all friends, which doesn’t happen that often on a team and that is what you need to win,” said Alzner, who held the leading goal scorer in the AHL playoffs, Jamie Benn, to just two assists in the six game series.

“I feel very grateful to have the group of guys that I had not only from a skill level standpoint but from a leadership standpoint and finally good people. We asked them to do things, we had a very business-like approach all year and they were an easy group to coach. When you gave it to them a little bit, they always responded in the right way and you trusted that you knew when you left the room that your leaders were saying the right things and that is pretty special. They are a special group, I think, could have won under a lot of coaches,” finished a very humble French, who certainly contributed mightily to the championship with his tactical moves and line-up tweaks, in particular, the swap of Bourque and Giroux on the top two lines, a move that Texas never was able to adjust to.

“Well, it was a heck of a team. They had everything. They had skill and grit and depth and balance and goaltending. They seemed to like each other and they were a very well coached team,” summarized Capitals GM George McPhee watching from ice level on the outside of the glass following the win and refusing to take any credit he clearly deserved for helping to build this AHL powerhouse along with Hershey President/GM Doug Yingst.




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Giroux Scores in OT for Hershey in 2-1 Win

Posted on 12 June 2010 by Ed Frankovic

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.

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Carlson Delivers Late in Game 4 Hershey Victory

Posted on 10 June 2010 by Ed Frankovic

John Carlson knows how to score big goals. On Wednesday night in the fourth tilt of their best of seven Calder Cup Finals series, with the contest tied and the Bears trailing two games to one, Hershey received a late power play when Texas was whistled for too many men on the ice. Then Carlson, the American Hero, tapped home a perfect feed from Keith Aucoin to give the Chocolate and White the late lead with just 2:08 remaining in regulation and Alexandre Giroux added an empty net power play goal with 27 seconds left to give the Bears a 4-2 victory and knot this AHL Finals series at two games a piece. Carlson, who has not played some of his best hockey in the first three games, continues to find a way to deliver in crucial moments.

“I’ve been battling the puck here for this series. It’s a good pick me up. I stuck to it, just kept going back to the basics and it paid off,” said #4 in a post game interview with ABC-27’s Gregg Mace.

For the Bears, this win has to give them a lot of confidence. The series, after game five in Texas on Friday night (shown on Comcast SportsNet at 830pm with the great John Walton bringing the play by play), will shift back to Hershey for game six (and seven, if necessary). Here are some highlights and analysis after a critical win for Hershey Coach Mark French and his squad:

– When the Bears listen to their coach and play the simple game of dumping the puck deep then cycling Texas on the boards, they flat out dominate. Hershey did this in the first 10 minutes and they also showed discipline by staying out of the box in the opening portion of the contest. It was pretty much a perfect start for the Chocolate and White made even better by Aucoin’s power play goal just 5:37 into the tilt.

– From the midpoint of the first period well into period two, however, Hershey started getting too fancy on the rush and the result was numerous turnovers at the Stars blueline which spurred the Texas transition game. Chris Bourque, Aucoin, and several others were trying drop passes and risky cross ice feeds instead of just firing the biscuit to the cage and going for rebounds. In addition, lack of discipline led to a too many men on the ice penalty for the Bears at the 10:30 mark of period two and just 17 seconds later the Stars tallied to take a 2-1 lead.

– Shortly after Texas took the lead, Hershey got back to cycling the puck and Jay Beagle buried one from the slot to tie things up to set up the fourth straight third period that would begin with the game tied in these AHL Finals. French’s club then played more like the third period of game three and the first 10 minutes of this tilt, outshooting Texas 11-7 over the last 20 minutes, but Matt Climie (24 saves) made some big stops to give his team a chance until the costly bench minor that set up Carlson’s game winning goal.

– Hershey gave up one power play goal in four tries and they showed a lack of aggression on a couple of their penalty kills. The Bears were too content to try and stay in their box and the Stars were exploiting the two forwards at the top, which allowed them to swing the puck and get some quality chances. Michal Neuvirth (24 saves) made some huge stops otherwise Texas would have had one or two more power play goals. French might need to adjust his PK slightly in game five to prevent the numerous quality chances Texas had in game four.

– Again, the simple game is what works in the playoffs and the Bears did that in period three throwing pucks deep and not trying to make the risky passes when they crossed the Stars blueline. The Bears went to the net and created traffic and it was just a matter of time in period three before they lit the lamp behind Climie. Carlson credited his team’s experience for being able to get back to playing the style necessary to win in the post season.

“That’s playoff hockey, it’s the Calder Cup. I think the whole entire locker room has been here last year so, we know what it takes and it’s block shots and it’s little plays like that, chipping the pucks in and being unselfish. I think that we did all of those things tonight. That is a good team over there and it was a hard battle,” finished Carlson in his television interview with Mace.

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Hershey Loses Game 1 of AHL Finals, 2-1

Posted on 04 June 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Hershey Bears, who came into Thursday night’s Calder Cup opening game against the Texas Stars with an undefeated 8-0 home record, started slow, took a brief 1-0 second period lead, but ultimately were done in by bad decision making in a 2-1 loss at the Giant Center. Texas left wing Scott McCulloch grabbed an errant Chris Bourque drop pass that was intended for Sean Collins and darted down the ice with the game tied early in the third period. #17 appeared to have the angle on him to make up for his miscue but instead of using his speed to get position on the Stars forward, Bourque dove on the ice to slide past McCulloh, and then the Texas winger faked out Bears goalie Michal Neuvirth and deposited the puck by #30 for the game winner. Game two is Saturday night at the Giant Center.

A very energized Hershey crowd of 10,013 was all fired up for the return of Bears hockey after an 11 day layoff. However, unlike the start of the AHL Eastern Conference Finals, the Bears did not score quickly nor dominate the first period. Hershey clearly the showed the signs of the long break early with several missed passes and that trend would continue through much of the contest. Texas outshot the Bears 12-4 in period one and had a few good scoring chances with the best being a Jamie Benn partial breakaway after a Karl Alzner giveaway in the last minute. Neuvirth (24 saves), however, would stone the leading goal scorer so far in the 2010 Calder Cup Playoffs.  Overall Neuvirth was solid in net making some big stops to keep his club in the contest, especially when the Stars were carrying the play early on.

As the tilt went on, the Bears started to get their skating legs but often times they would parlay a good scoring chance into a turnover or blocked shot due to overpassing or waiting too long with the puck and Hershey Coach Mark French singled that out as the biggest reason for the loss.

“We are not going to make [the 11 day layoff] as the excuse. Were we good in the first period? No. I thought we got better as the game went on but we need to be better for 60 minutes,” started French, “We seemed to get some opportunities where we brought the puck into scoring areas but we were trying to be too cute, make that one more pass instead of one less pass and one more shot. They blocked a lot of shots but I thought with blocks the longer you wait, the more indecisive you are to shoot, and the more tendency they are to get blocked. You get closer to their guy, so I thought that played into that and we didn’t have a really good shot-drive mentality. We need to improve that in game two,” finished the man who led the Bears to a 60 win and 123 point regular season.

Francois Bouchard scored the lone Bears goal at 4:25 of period two after a nifty pass from Mathieu Perreault and it appeared that things would get rolling for the Hershey machine. But 11 seconds after an Alzner delay of game penalty had expired, Greg Rallo of Texas came down the slot on King Karl and rifled one by Neuvirth, using #7 as a partial screen. It was a super shot that rang the iron on the way in but Alzner usually would break that play up before a shot is released. Overall, it was not one of the better performances from the Capitals 2007 1st round pick (5th overall). The pair of Alzner and John Carlson received a ton of ice time and at the end of the game it appeared that they were tired as a couple of times they were beaten to the puck. Clearly the layoff could have impacted many of the players conditioning. Carlson had an up and down game as well but one of the highlights was when he hammered Benn against the right wing boards in the Bears zone, and then he easily took the puck from the forward who spent all 82 games during the 2009-10 regular season with his parent club.

Texas received four power plays on the night to just two for the Bears but neither team converted with the man advantage. The second Hershey penalty was the result of an Alexandre Giroux cross check. The bad penalty by the 2008-09 AHL MVP came after he was set up beautifully in the slot by an Andrew Gordon feed after a super cross ice pass from Alzner. Had Giroux shot quickly he likely would have scored but he took the extra second and lost the puck. Giroux was pretty awful in game one taking far too long to release the puck on scoring chances and on several occassions he was stripped of the biscuit rather easily. Center Keith Aucoin did not perform very well either and if not for Gordon creating havoc in front of the cage against Stars goalie Matt Climie (26 saves) that line would have been even worse.

These two teams did not face each other in the regular season so game one definitely had a feeling out period for each squad. After the tilt I caught up with Gordon and here is a transcript of the interview:

WNST: What was the game plan for game one?

Gordon: We wanted to shoot the puck a lot. I thought we did a decent job of that the last two periods. Any goalie, the more rubber you put on him eventually he is going to slip up. We wanted to get a lot of pucks on net, create a lot of traffic, the problem was they were blocking a lot of our shots and stifling our second chance opportunities. We have to find a way to battle through that and make sure we get our shots through and be in position to get the rebounds.

WNST: Having seen Texas on film and now seeing them live, what is your impression of their team?

Gordon: They’re a hard working group. It is a lot like Manitoba was last year. They are strong physically, they don’t back down, they’re deep but not overly skilled. Not every guy on the team is going to beat you one on one. They wear you down a bit if you are not careful, especially if you are not mentally prepared every shift to go in and battle. It is going to be a battle from here on out and we know the series is far from over.

WNST: Speaking of battles, you had quite a few with Climie tonight taking a few sticks in the back of the leg.

Gordon: You are going to take those sticks when you get in their way. I just try to make sure I stay out of the paint. The referees are good at talking to me and making sure I am not backing up into the crease and getting myself any penalties. So that is where I’ve certainly made a living this year, in front.

WNST: Did you get much input from the referees tonight given what was going on out there?

Gordon: They just told me to watch my feet, watch my feet, watch my feet. Other than that I have a pretty good sense of where I am when I am out there. It’s good, I am going to keep getting there and at times [Climie] had trouble seeing through traffic. Try and create havoc in there whenever I can.

Overall Gordon, who missed the last five games of the Manchester series due to a lower body injury, was one of the better Bears on Thursday night. He also had the hit of the night on Stars defenseman Andrew Hutchinson catching #10 from the side and rocking him into the boards in front of the Texas bench. The hit incensed the Stars and two players immediately jumped on, with Hutchinson still on the ice, to get at Gordon but they were unsuccessful. Surprisingly the Stars were not whisteld for a bench minor. As for the hit, it was vicious but not dirty, according to Texas coach Glen Gulutzan.

“I thought it was clean. I thought if anything it might have been a minor for a charge, but you know this is the playoffs and guys are gonna have to get dirty and they are going to take hits so that is kind of my take on it. I haven’t seen it on video, so maybe I change my mind, but from what I caught of it I think it was probably the right call,” said the Stars bench boss on the Gordon hit that was not penalized.

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Hershey Wins Game 5 in OT, Take Series Lead

Posted on 20 May 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Hershey Bears, who blew a 2-0 lead in game three and then were shutout in game four in their AHL Eastern Conference Finals best of seven matchup with Manchester, just needed to find a way to get a win against the Monarchs on Thursday in order to reclaim the series lead. Well, it wasn’t pretty, and it was tough on the heart, but Francois Bouchard knocked home the rebound of a Mathieu Perreault shot 10:38 into overtime to give the Bears a 3-2 win and the same margin in games. Game 6 is at what surely will be a sold out Giant Center on Saturday night in Chocolate Town. If Hershey can’t close the deal then game seven would be Sunday at 5pm at the Giant Center, as well.

Here are some highlights, thoughts, and analysis on what could be deemed an Instant Classic from New Hampshire on Thursday night:

WOW, what a game! After a scoreless 40 minutes that were dominated by outstanding goaltending at both ends of the rink, the Monarchs appeared to take control on two occassions after scoring power play goals. The first Manchester tally came after Greg Amadio was called for interference just four minutes into period three. Bud Holloway lasered one from the right wing circle by Michal Neuvirth (27 saves). #30 had no chance because Patrick Wellar screened his own net minder. But the Bears answered with a goal by Kile Wilson at the 11:41 mark. Boyd Kane carried the puck down the left wing boards and he fired it on net. The puck hit the Monarchs defender and then what appeared to be Wilson’s skate, before going by Jonathan Bernier (32 saves). Manchester would complain, but the goal stood.

With play tightening up the contest appeared headed to overtime, but then Alexandre Giroux, who struggled in the three tilts in New Hampshire, took a costly goalie interference penalty at 15:56. 90 seconds later the Monarchs appeared to be on the verge of taking control in this series when, after a wild sequence, Jacob Muzzin blasted one in by Neuvirth. The Bears had several attempts to clear but Manchester kept the biscuit in and made Hershey pay.

Things looked bleak but Coach Mark French’s crew managed to get an offensive zone face-off with just 1:08 to go and the Bears called timeout. Hershey won the face-off and Keith Aucion fired a cross ice pass from the left wing circle to Alexandre Giroux at the right point and #12 then slid one to Chris Bourque in the right wing circle. #17 then wristed one by Bernier with Bouchard screening in front. A wild Hershey celebration ensued with just 50 ticks remaining in regulation. However, just before the first 60 minutes were up, Holloway hit the post and that gave the Bears their chance to prevail in OT.

As I said, both goalies were superb and it is hard to say who was better, but I’ll give the nod to Neuvirth, who could not be faulted on either Monarchs tally. #30 was just sensational on several occassions, including one sequence where he made a great first save on Andrei Lotkionov then dived to stop Holloway with the rebound on the doorstep in the second period. Manchester had a good game plan of trying to throw as much traffic as they could in front of Neuvy and it nearly worked, although the Monarchs only scored with the man advantage (2 for 3 on the power play).

As I blogged after games one and three, Bourque continues to be the best player on the ice, in my opinion. #17 had a goal and an assist and was +2. Whenever he was out there the Bears seemed to carry the play. He and Perreault (1 assist, +2) create offense well together. I attribute that to their superior skating ability, outstanding hands, and excellent hockey smarts. I think both guys will get good looks and have a chance to make the Caps out of training camp in September.

Now to Bouchard. It was good to see him make things happen around the net, something I saw him do well back in February when I was up for a Hershey-Albany tilt during the NHL Olympic Break. #22, who was a Capitals second round pick in 2006 and turned 22 years old on April 26th, is starting to fill out physically (6′ 1”, 190 lbs) and the winger is using that additional size to notch some hard working tallies.

The pair of John Carlson (+2) and Karl Alzner (+1) had a game that was more reminscent of the two opening contests of this series at the Giant Center after what I will call an average performance in game three. They were both on for the game winner. In fact, Carlson was the one who made the play on the right point to start the sequence that led to the winning tally by Bouchard. #4 fought off two Monarchs to keep the puck in and get it to Bourque. #17 then fed it to Perreault near the point in the middle of the ice and his blast could not be handled by Bernier. Bouchard then skated in off of the right post and banged it home to bring on the familiar call from the great John Walton (Hershey’s play by play voice): “Good morning, good afternoon, and good night Manchester!”

I have a feeling Walton will be saying that again on Saturday night and that would put the Bears in their second consecutive Calder Cup Finals. Stay tuned.

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Caps Call Monday Press Conference & Other Team News

Posted on 16 May 2010 by Ed Frankovic

Caps Call Monday Press Conference

The Washington Capitals media relations department released a memo today saying that the team will hold a press conference on Monday at 1030 am at Kettler Iceplex to make a significant player-related announcement. No more details were provided by the organization.

However, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this means that the team has likely come to terms with pending (on July 1) restricted free agent center Nicklas Backstrom. In fact both Tarik El-Bashir of the Washington Post and Pierre LeBrun of ESPN are reporting that the session is to announce a long term deal with the Swedish center with an average salary believed to be in the upper $6M range.

My take on this: GREAT! Backstrom is a super player and a stand up guy. He deserves to stay in Washington and there is no doubt the Caps covet one of the top centers in the National Hockey League. The 22 year old pivot man finished fourth in the league in scoring in 2009-10 with 33 goals and 68 assists, topping the century mark in points (101) for the first time in his career. #19 hasn’t missed a game in his three seasons with Washington. The fourth overall pick in the 2006 NHL draft is a fan favorite and hopefully will be Alexander Ovechkin’s center for a very long time in DC.

Caps News

Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Semyon Varlamov have helped Russia to a 5-0 record in the World Championships in Germany. The Great #8 has tallied in each game, Varlamov has won his two starts, and Semin has a goal and three assists. Team Russia also has Ilya Kovalchuk, Sergei Fedorov, Evgeni Malkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Sergei Gonchar, and Alexander Frolov on its’ active roster so they are the heavy favorites, at this point.

Down on the farm, the Hershey Bears continue to roll and after handily winning game one, 4-2 (my blog on that here), they rallied from a 2-1 third period deficit to win game two against the Manchester Monarchs, 3-2, in overtime at the Giant Center on Saturday night. Chris Bourque, who was great in the series opener (AHL Eastern Conference Finals), notched the game winner in game two and he also scored the initial tally in that tilt. #17 left game two for a few shifts after being hit by Oscar Moller and the fast skating winger says he will be sore, but ready for game three in Manchester on Monday night. Games four and five are also in New Hampshire on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.

There are no shortage of players on this current Hershey team that could be in DC when the puck drops in October on the 2010-11 season. The obvious first two are defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner, who are flat out dominant at the AHL level. Michal Neuvirth, who played a big role in the Caps club record 14 game winning streak this season, is undefeated in this year’s postseason after backstopping the Bears to the Calder Cup in 2009. For the all the hype given to Manchester Monarchs goalie Jonathan Bernier (11th overall pick in the 2006 NHL draft), Neuvirth is winning the netminding dual between the first and fifth goalies selected in the 2006 NHL draft (Varlamov was the third one chosen) so far in this series. Mathieu Perreault, who is only 22, has played very well centering the Bears second line and he figures to get a strong look by GM George McPhee and Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau in training camp in September. In addition, Bourque continues to impress me and he has the skating ability to play in the NHL but size has been considered his downfall, by some. My advice to Bourque is to keep plugging and don’t give up! After all, superstar forward Martin St. Louis is only 5′ 9″ and 177 and it wasn’t until he was 27 years old that he finally started showing that he could consistently be a top six NHL forward. Bourque is still only 24 so there is no need to try and write him off as a career AHLer just yet. Finally, forwards Andrew Gordon (25) and Steve Pinizzotto (26) have shown the ability to go to the net and score the tough goal. Gordon is more gifted offensively while “Pinner” is a banging, physical winger but both are hard workers that have NHL potential.

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Bears Win Game 1, 4-2 (Updated with Quotes)

Posted on 12 May 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The Hershey Bears defeated the Manchester Monarchs, 4-2, in game 1 of the AHL Eastern Conference Finals at the Giant Center on Wednesday night. Bears goalie Michal Neuvirth stopped 24 shots, including three breakaways, en route to his seventh straight playoff victory this post season. #30 was the Calder Cup winning net minder last season for the Bears and looks capable of duplicating that feat again this spring. Here are the period by period highlights and analysis followed by some post game quotes and thoughts:

End of 1st Period: Bears 2, Monarchs 0

So much for the nearly two week layoff hurting Hershey! The Bears came out flying scoring just 16 seconds in on a Sean Collins point blast with assists from Chris Bourque and Mathieu Perreault. Then after a poor power play by Hershey, plagued by two Alexandre Giroux giveaways, the Monarchs received a man advantage but Neuvirth stood tall. The shots were 5-2 Manchester after the Bears penalty kill, but then Hershey turned it up. When the Bears received their second power play they made the Monarchs pay as Keith Aucoin sent a nice cross ice pass to Giroux, who one timed it on Jonathan Bernier. The Kings 2006 1st round pick (#11 overall) gave up a huge rebound into the slot and Andrew Gordon banged it home to make it 2-0. Hershey would dominate the rest of the stanza, outshooting the Monarchs 13-7. Bourque had a super period and was all over the ice. Steve Pinizzotto and Kyle Clifford had a spirited bout by the benches late in the period and both received five minutes for fighting.

End of 2nd Period: Bears 3, Monarchs 0

The Monarchs came out with much more energy and a solid forecheck to start period two but they could not solve the Bears defense. Both Karl Alzner and Patrick Wellar made separate solid defensive plays to break up any scoring chances and when Manchester did get shots through, Neuvirth (15 saves so far through two periods) was there for Hershey. With just under 14 minutes left in period two the Bears started taking over again and just past the game’s midway point Pinizzotto made a great play in the neutral zone to steal the puck, then went around the Monarchs defender and skated in two on one on Bernier. “Pinner” froze the Manchester goalie and beat him up high, short side to make it 3-0. The visitors then got a golden opportunity to get on the board as Hershey got caught in a bad change allowing Andrei Loktionov to get a clean breakaway on #30. Neuvy, however, stopped him with a super pad save. The Bears had a late 5 on 3 power play for 22 seconds but could not convert. Lots of guys are standing out for Hershey tonight including the Alzner-John Carlson pairing plus Bourque, Perreault, and the physical impact Pinizzotto is bringing to this tilt (not to mention his highlight reel tally). Shots are 22-15 Bears after two.

End of Period 3: Bears 4, Monarchs 2

Hershey played a sloppy 3rd period but managed to hold on for the victory. Neuvirth stopped Bud Holloway on a shorthanded breakaway to keep it 3-0 after Carlson was caught at the left point. #30 then gave up a softie to Loktionov from lower right circle to make it 3-1 with 7:28 remaining. Less than two minutes later Boyd Kane stole the puck in the neutral zone, waited patiently while Alzner jumped up into the play, fed King Karl with a nice pass when #7 opened up, and then Alzner beat Bernier blocker side to make it 4-1 with 5:42 remaining. The Monarchs would add a goal from Gabe Gauthier off a good Oscar Moller pass to make it 4-2 with 3:50 remaining. Gauthier was left all alone in front of Neuvrith for some reason. With 2:35 to go Collins was sent off for cross checking but the Monarchs surprisingly didn’t pull Bernier until the last minute allowing the Bears to close the deal.

All in all it was a good effort from Hershey in their first tilt in 13 days to get a big win to open this series. They were sloppy, at times in the third period, and the power play needs to take more advantage of its opportunities (1 for 5) but overall Hershey looks like the better club. Many of the players stated afterwards that they were excited to finally play again and that is why they had such a good start. However, they pointed out that in the third period they lost their legs and as a result the Monarchs outshot them 11-6. The final shots tally was 28-26 in favor of the Bears.

The official three stars for the contest were Pinizzotto, Neuvirth, and Bourque. It is hard to argue with those selections but Alzner also stood out along with Carlson. In addition, forward Andrew Joudrey played a very nice game going +2 and he was excellent killing penalties (Manchester went 0 for 3). Kane (1 assist, +2) performed well assisting on Alzner’s goal and he was also the other forward on Pinizzotto’s two on one break in which #13 shot the puck to notch the third Bears goal.

Here are some more thoughts and quotes on the Bears victory:

Neuvirth outdueled Bernier and #30 credited his success on the breakaways to some extra practice work.

“You know I took over 50 breakaways yesterday at our practice. Maybe I was right to get the extra work on the breakaways. I am glad I did it. I was perfect on the breakaways,” added the 22 year old Czech goalie.

Alzner was also very complimentary of his goaltender.

“We talked about [the three breakaways], he’s unbelievable. He’s good in practice when we go against him and you could tell he was on today. He was sliding over at the right time and he was staying square to the puck. It was exactly what we needed from him. We don’t want to do that anymore but it is nice when he comes up big,” said the captain of the 2008 Canadian World Junior Championship squad.

Neuvirth did a good job of not commiting first on the breakaways and he was solid all game. The first tally on him was from a bad angle and could be considered soft but he clearly did not see it.

“I don’t even know where it went through. Archie [goalie coach Arturs Irbe] told me it went short side under the glove but I got to get those and make sure I stop them on Saturday night,” added #30.

As I mentioned, Alzner and Carlson were so dominant and there were numerous shifts where they just appeared to be at another level than the others on the ice. Carlson, who was super down the stretch with the Caps, seems to be even more aggressive in the AHL when paired with King Karl and there were several instances where he was almost like a fourth forward on the ice as he helped create lots of offensive chances for Hershey. It is ironic though, that on one of the rare occassions when Alzner jumped up in the play, the Bears scored. 

“We don’t talk too much about jumping into the play or anything like that. If he has a chance, I know he is going to go. If I have a chance I’m going to go but I’m going to make sure I let him know to stay back because I’ve found that I’ve learned alot from him this year on just getting my timing better on jumping into the play. So when he was [in Washington] that is what I was doing a lot more. We just have to watch each other because [Manchester] has a great transition game,” said #7 on how he and Carlson handle adding offense from the blue line.

Manchester clearly appears to be the weaker team but Alzner was quick to point out that he thinks the Monarchs are dangerous and there are things Hershey will have to do to continue to be successful in this series.

“Once they get into the swing I’m sure they are going to be cycling real well. They got a lot of guys that can move and can play really well one on one. So we have to be careful that we are not over-commiting.  I know that there were a few times when I went in for a hit and they stepped around me, so we just have to be careful down low and keep the pucks on them,” finished #7 on what he sees are areas for improvement in game two on Saturday night at 7pm at the Giant Center.

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Caps, Bears, and NHL News & Thoughts

Posted on 09 May 2010 by Ed Frankovic

It has been a week and a half since the Caps season ended and over a week since my last blog so I think it is time for some hockey talk. With the second round of the NHL playoffs winding down and the draft and free agency over a month and a half away, here are some thoughts on the Caps, the Hershey Bears, and the rest of the NHL:

Caps New & Thoughts

– The wiped out Alexander Ovechkin goal in game seven was definitely a weak call, in my opinion. So where does it rank with the two other big game seven referee blunders against Washington? Is it on par with the non-called New Jersey offsides in 1988 on the winning tally or the missed goalie interference infraction against the Flyers on their first goal in 2008? Tough debate but Kevin Collins has now been involved in two of three. He was the linesman who didn’t stop the play in 1988 and he was the supervisor of officials for this year’s Montreal series. It is no secret that the Habs spent time complaining to the officials about contact with their goalies during the series. How much impact did that whining have on the call in game seven? I have to think it was a big factor because Mike Knuble barely makes contact with Jaroslav Halak and the puck arguably was already by #41, at that point. Given what I’ve seen in other games throughout these 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs that washed out goal will always be a head scratcher to me.

– After game seven in the post game press conference, Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau made a point of saying that his team was healthy in the series against the Canadiens. The 2007-08 Jack Adams Award winner was likely just trying to avoid making excuses because we have now found out that Mike Green played with a bad wrist (took a slash in Columbus on April 3rd) and Nicklas Backstrom injured his shoulder in game three. Both #52 and #19 did not play for their countries in the 2010 World Championships that have commenced in Germany because of those injuries. Alexander Ovechkin, Semyon Varlamov, and Alexander Semin are playing for Russia while Brooks Laich is lacing it up for Team Canada.

– There are multiple reasons for the Caps loss ranging from the great play of Halak, lack of Washington secondary scoring, 1 for 33 Capitals power play, etc. but to me the most telling post defeat quotes came from Ovechkin (courtesy of the Washington Post’s  DC Sports Bog):

“Maybe we just thought it was a done series,” he said. “Especially after couple playoffs and what we do in the season, I think everybody knows we can win the Cup, we can be on top of everybody. But when you get the lead 3-1, you think Ok, maybe they’re gonna give up and maybe we just gonna win easy game and be ready for next round.”

Clearly game five was the turning point in the series and the inexperienced Caps thought they could just show up that night and win. Part of the maturing process is learning to close teams out. To do that you must never take your opponent lightly and I think Washington could be accused of that in the first five games because they failed to come out strong in the opening stanza in any of those contests. The fact that the Great #8 recognizes the lack of focus from his club is half the battle. It is a painful lesson to learn but come next April hopefully they won’t forget it. Going forward for Washington over the next 12 months, I believe “Mature” is a word that will be brought up quite a bit.

Hershey Bears News & Thoughts

– I am really looking forward to covering game one of the AHL Eastern Conference Finals on Wedneday night in Hershey. I have not seen the Manchester Monarchs play this season but have watched some of their players in past game action. Goalie Jonathan Bernier, who was the first net minder taken in the 2006 NHL draft at pick #11, has already played seven games for the Los Angeles Kings (4-3). His debut was back in September of 2007 when he stoned the Anaheim Ducks in England (4-1 victory). Bernier would lose his next three starts and was sent back to junior hockey before ending the 2007-08 season in Manchester. He has since been beaten out by Jonathan Quick at the NHL level, but the young goalie did play three games for Coach Terry Murray in 2009-10 going 3-0 with a .957 save percentage. Bernier will be a tough nut to crack for Hershey, much like Cory Schneider was for Manitoba in last year’s AHL Calder Cup finals. Bernier was taken 12 picks ahead of the Caps Semyon Varlamov, who was the third goalie selected in 2006. Bernier will most likely oppose the 34th pick (5th goalie) from that same 2006 draft in Hershey’s Michal Neuvirth.

– Speaking of Kings vs. Caps draft picks there is another interesting link heading into this series. In the 2007 NHL Entry Draft LA had the fourth pick overall and took defenseman Thomas Hickey of the Seattle Thunderbirds. Hickey was the first d-man chosen and on the next pick, Washington took Karl Alzner, who an NHL scout told me shortly after selection day was “hands down the best blue liner in the entire draft.” King Karl has proven that to be true having shuttled between Hershey and DC for the last two seasons and Alzner had a very solid game seven against the Habs, after which both Boudreau and GM George McPhee proclaimed him “NHL ready for 2010-11.” Had the Kings selected Alzner they would have a monster blue line pair of Drew Doughty and the Caps #27. Thankfully for Capitals fans Alzner’s partner in Hershey is John Carlson,  the 2010 Team USA World Junior Championships hero, and the two will likely be paired for several years to come in DC. Btw, Hickey has been scratched from all 10 Manchester playoff games through the first two rounds.

– Another Monarch I have seen play several times, and once in person, is center Justin Azevedo. Azevedo was the captain of the 2007-08 Kitchener Rangers, who lost in the finals of the Memorial Cup to the Spokane Chiefs. He is second in scoring for the Monarchs in the AHL playoffs with two goals and eight assists. In 2007 I was in Kitchener with an NHL scout and was impressed with the skill, speed, and desire that he displayed in a contest against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. However, because he is only 5-7 and 180 pounds he wasn’t drafted by Los Angeles until the sixth round in 2008.

– Oscar Moller is another familiar name. The 21 year old Swedish center was selected in the 2nd round of the 2007 NHL draft and he has two goals and four assists in 10 playoff contests this spring for Manchester. Moller was the team captain of the 2009 World Junior Championships runner-up Team Sweden squad and has 11 goals and 11 assists in 74 games for Los Angeles over the last two seasons. Moller is another smallish center (5-11, 182 pounds) who has speed and skill.

NHL News & Thoughts

– Speaking of young teams needing to mature, did the Chicago Blackhawks take the Vancouver Canucks too lightly themselves in game five on Sunday night? The Canucks, who after smoking the Hawks 5-1 in game one, had lost three straight in this series and headed to the Windy City facing elimination. Much like the Canadiens did to the Caps, the boys from Vancouver tallied twice in the first period and rode the solid goaltending of Roberto Luongo, who had struggled in the past three tilts, en route to a 4-1 victory. Game six is on Tuesday at 930pm from Vancouver and clearly Joel Quenneville’s squad missed a golden opportunity to put the Canucks away for good.

– The San Jose Sharks have advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2004 (lost to Calgary Flames) with their 4-1 impressive series victory over the Detroit Red Wings. The Sharks, who have been a post season disappointment for the past four seasons, won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2008-09, but lost in the first round that year to the Anaheim Ducks. Their 2008-09 season has led to comparisons to the Caps 2009-10 campaign and there are some similarities. To me the biggest one is the secondary scoring issue. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have been criticized heavily for their past post season performances and to help change that Sharks GM Doug Wilson acquired forward Dany Heatley from Ottawa last summer in a monster trade. The acquisition helped raise the play of #19 and #12 but that top line, which was used by Team Canada in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, has received a major boost from their second forward unit. Joe Pavelski (9 goals), Devon Setoguchi (5 goals), and Ryan Clowe (2 goals) have been terrific in the post season and that type of secondary scoring is something the Caps will need to find in the playoffs in 2010-11. I am sticking with my pre-season pick of San Jose taking the Stanley Cup this spring but if Thornton and company think this win over Detroit gives them redemption for past miscues, then they will get knocked out next round. You can never relax in the playoffs.

– Game six of the Penguins-Canadiens series is on Monday night and Halak has been fabulous again to keep Montreal alive. What is even more amazing is that the Habs have won two contests without their best defenseman, Andrei Markov, who was injured in game one. Now word has it that Hal Gill may miss game six due to a cut to the back of his leg, but Corey Masisak (NHL.COM & CSN.COM) reported via his twitter account (@cmasisak22) Sunday night that Gill was on his flight into Quebec. The Habs absolutely have to have #75 in their lineup if they are to have any chance in game six. Montreal’s partial success against the defending Stanley Cup Champions does show that their upset over Washington was not a total fluke, despite the insistence of some analysts that choose to put ALL of the blame on the Caps, but that is little solace to the Capitals and their fans.

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Hershey Bears Announce Dates for Games 1 & 2 of AHL Eastern Conference Finals

Posted on 05 May 2010 by Ed Frankovic

The HERSHEY BEARS announced today in conjunction with the American Hockey League that the club will open the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals with back-to-back home games at the Giant Center. The BEARS will face either the Worcester Sharks or the Manchester Monarchs in the next round, with the full schedule to be announced either Friday or Saturday evening, depending on when the 2010 Atlantic Division Finals comes to a conclusion.  The announcement was made today by BEARS President/GM Doug Yingst.


HERSHEY will open the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday, May 12 at 7:00 p.m. against either Worcester or Manchester, and will play Game 2 of the best-of-seven series on Saturday, May 15.  Both games will be played at Giant Center at 7:00 p.m.  By virtue of recording the AHL’s best regular season record in 2009-10, the BEARS have home-ice advantage throughout the 2010 Calder Cup playoffs.


Tickets for Game 1 and Game 2 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals at GIANT Center are on sale now at the GIANT Center box office or by phone at (717) 534-3911.  The appearance marks the fourth time in the last five years that the BEARS have advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals, winning two Calder Cups and participating in three Calder Cup Finals. 


COMMENT: WNST.NET (yours truly) will be covering game 1 next Wednesday and providing a blog with analysis and quotes afterwards. Hershey is loaded with talent and have several players who have already spent time with the Capitals as well as some other potential prospects. The cream of the crop are defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner. In net, Caps draftees Michal Neuvirth (2nd round 2006) and Braden Holtby (4th round) have bright futures and if Jose Theodore is not back in DC next year (he is an unrestricted free agent) then there is a chance that Neuvirth could be in Washington with Semyon Varlamov. Up front, forward Chris Bourque is having an outstanding season and will get another shot to make the Capitals at training camp in September. Center Mathieu Perreault will also get a long look at Kettler Iceplex next fall as a possible pivot man for the big club. Andrew Gordon, Francois Bouchard, and 2009-10 AHL MVP, Keith Aucoin, are also up front on a powerful Bears roster.

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