Saturday, March 27, 2010
Bears Bite Sharks to Claim Eastern Supremacy
The sequel to the battle of the Eastern Conference titans ended on a much higher note for the Hershey Bears on Friday night, as the Bears swarmed the Worcester Sharks at Giant Center, 7-2.
In the teams’ previous meeting in Massachusetts on March 14th, the Sharks smothered a road-weary Hershey club, 6-2, scoring all of their goals before the Bears were able to respond late in the third period.
Hershey winger, Jay Beagle was the first Bear to buzz Worcester’s starting goalie, Alex Stalock, beating him from close range 3:41 into the game for his 13th goal of the season, after receiving a pretty pass from Mathieu Perreault.
“It was a good play by Bourque to give the puck to Perreault, and for Perre to make that pass. It was such a good saucer pass from Perre and I knew I had to put the puck in the net, and it got us off to a good start,” Beagle said.
Alexandre Giroux, tied for the league lead in goal with 37 entering the contest, took the lead in that category with his 38th marker of the campaign, only forty-six seconds after Beagle’s bellowing, and gave the Bears a 2-0 lead.
The Bears continued their first period stalking of Stalock, with Patrick McNeill, returning to the lineup after a 16 game absence due to injury, wristing a low laser by the besieged rookie at 5:55, for the home teams’ third goal in three shots, staking them to a 3-0 lead.
“I just got it and fired it at the net like it went off one of their sticks and took a fortunate bounce for me and went in,” said McNeill.
“The hardest part about being out for so long was staying positive,” said McNeill. “It’s tough to sit out for a long period of time and then keep your legs and lungs strong. I went into tonight a little bit nervous; I haven’t played in 16 games and I was contributing quite a bit before I went out so I kind of wanted to come back into the lineup and make a good impression in my first game back.”
In the second period, only six seconds after a Bears fruitless and frustrating power play, Keith Aucoin banked in a billiard shot off Worcester defenseman, Mike Moore to increase the Hershey lead to 4-0.
“I didn’t call the bank shot, but I should have,” Aucoin chuckled. “I knew the penalty was just ending and I had to get it off and I just wanted to throw it to the net, hoping something good would happen and I got lucky.”
Midway through the second period, Hershey’s 37-year-old captain, Bryan Helmer, showed that age has no boundaries by impressively racing back into his own zone to thwart a potential breakaway goal by Worcester’s Dwight Helminen.
“It must have been my new skates,” joked Helmer. “He was ahead of me, so I just put my head down and skated as hard as I could. Holtby made a great save.”
With less than a minute to go before the second intermission, the Sharks finally struck for a goal when defenseman, Jason Demers, took advantage of a turnover by Bears’ defenseman, McNeill, and turned it into into a short-side goal to trim the Bears bulge to 4-1 heading into the third period.
Slightly bruised, but not battered from Demers’ denting of the twine, the Bears quickly restored their four-goal cushion early in the third period when Giroux beat Stalock on an excellent solo effort only seventeen seconds into the frame.
Giroux then capped off his hat trick at 7:10, coincidentally only seventeen seconds after Stalock had denied him from point blank range. Giroux’s linemate, Aucoin, picked up the secondary assist on the goal, giving him four points on the evening.
Giroux, Aucoin and Andrew Gordon line, which combined for zero points and a plus-minus rating of -9 in the Bears’ road defeat to the Sharks, combined on Friday night to score seven points, even with Gordon being tossed out of the game early in the second period.
John McCarthy cut the Sharks’ deep deficit to 6-2 at 18:21, and it looked like the game was going to end with that which was incidentally the exact score of the Bears lopsided loss in Worcester earlier in the month.
However, Hershey ironman, Kyle Wilson made sure his team one-upped Worcester, netting the final goal of the game at 19:38, with Steve Pinizzotto and Francois Bouchard picking up the helpers, sending the 10,000 plus spectators home on a happy note.
With this win, their 54th of the season, the Bears clinched the Eastern Conference title for the second straight year.
“When you look at last year and what we did and compare it to what we’re doing in the regular season this year, it’s pretty impressive and hard to fathom,” said Helmer, who was also the captain last season.. “It’s a good bunch of guys in this dressing room and it’s well-deserved.”
**PHOTO COURTESY OF JUST SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY**