If you’ve ever played a competitive sport at any high-level, you know the importance of momentum. It’s something that cannot be accurately measured by statistics, but its presence will never show up on any box-score. Watching game two of the Calder Cup Finals between the Hershey Bears and the Texas Stars tonight, it was obvious who had momentum in the final ten minutes of the game: The Hershey Bears. Despite the Chocolate and White never leading during regulation, Andrew Gordon’s electrifying put-back off a Patrick Wellar shot from the right point rallied the troops and tied the game 3-3 with 9:16 to go. And after Stars’ Defenseman Matt Stephenson went off for a four-minute double minor for high-sticking towards the tail end of a Bears Powerplay, it seemed like fate was on the Bears side.
It was not to be. The Bears could not score during the ensuing 31 seconds of their 5 on 3 advantage and fretted away the first 1:16 of their 5 on 4. Then, after a whistle, Boyd Kane lost his temper during a scrum and speared a Texas player. The back linesman saw it, notified the head official, and Kane was sent off for four minutes, negating the rest of the Bears Powerplay. Hello, 4-on-4 hockey. Goodbye, momentum.
Hershey and Texas then traded chances back and forth until Caps castoff Travis Morin lifted a slow, knuckling backhander with 46 seconds left. The puck arc’ed over Michal Neuvirth, who desperately tried to stab it with his glove hand. While the rest of the Bears looked on in disbelief, the puck settled in the back of the net. The Bears lose a heartbreaker 4-3.
- Postgame, Hershey Head Coach Mark French, didn’t mince any words when reminded by ABC27′s Gregg Mace that the Bears have come back and won two straight on the road before: “We took six penalties tonight. Four poor in nature. If [our guys] want to continue making those errors, they’ll get to four [wins] before us.”
- Let’s not turn to the History Books for inspiration. No team has ever lost the first two games of the Calder Cup Finals at home and ever come back to win a series. The Bears will now travel to Texas where they’ll play three straight games at Cedar Park Center. They must win at least two of three to bring the series back home to Giant Center. Consider this little factoid as well: The Bears are only 4-3 this postseason on the road.
- Hershey had been 37-1-0-0 in its previous 38 home games before falling to Texas Stars on home ice twice in a three-day span. Is this just an anomaly or are they simply playing a better hockey team?
- I’ll put my Caps blinders on and say I think it’s an anomaly. We’re talking about potentially the AHL’s greatest team of all-time– a 60-win team in the regular season. Let’s face it: The Bears had an 11-day layoff before game one and looked rusty. Tonight, they were the better team, but were plagued by a few early mistakes, a lack of discipline and bad luck. Stars’ Center Aaron Gagnon scored one minute into the game on a breakaway after Hershey’s Defense came out disorganized. The Stars’ second goal of the game was an absurd gift from the Gods. Andrew Joudrey made a great hockey play and blocked a chunk of Garrett Stafford’s shot from the point during a Stars’ Powerplay. The shot changed directions and puttered harmlessly along the ice towards Bryan Helmer, who looked to control the puck on his backhand. As Helmer’s stick met rubber, the puck shot off his stick past a helpless Michal Neuvirth into the yawning net.
- Really, the key to this series will be if Hershey can eschew chip-and-chase to play the simple hockey that will overcome Texas’s outstanding defense. Mark French was clearly frustrated after the game. He has been preaching offensive-zone patience to his players. Yet, some of these guys will get discouraged and take harmless shots from the perimeter or throw a centering pass out in front when nobody’s home. The team must be aggressive on the forecheck and play hard in the corners. We’ll see if they’ve learned their lesson Monday Night.
- Hall of Fame Defenseman Ray Bourque was in the house tonight to watch his son play. He looks grumpy in our accompanying picture.
- One thing’s for sure: Steve Pinizzotto certainly plays the game with an edge. In the first period with the Bears shorthanded and down 1-0, he caused a turnover and expertly executed a 2-on-1 break. Pinner blasted a hard slapshot top-shelf to tally his fifth goal of the playoffs, unassisted. While that was totally awesome, he also lost his temper a few times and yapped way too much at the Stars bench. Pinizzotto has good speed, a hard, accurate shot and a dedication to defense that could make him a solid third or fourth line NHL player in the future, especially for a team like the Capitals who need guys who are tenacious and gifted on the penalty kill. Pinner however, needs to play with a controlled chaos and keep his emotions in check. Tonight, his two minors (slashing, roughing) negated his positives.
- Francois Bouchard now has goals in two straight.
- Andrew Gordon’s tally in the third was the first goal of the finals for the AHL’s most prolific line. His Celebration? So. Epic. (Check out the photo montage here.)
The Bears will leave for Texas at noon on Sunday from Harrisburg International Airport. When they step on the ice for game three Monday night, they will be forced to deal with real adversity for the first time this year. Can the Bears step up and regain their offensive flair? Will Texas feel the pressure of wanting to win the Calder Cup in front of their home fans and lose control of the series? Comcast SportsNet will be showing the game live Monday Night at 8:30pm. We’ll see you then.
Video of all of Game 2′s Goals: