The Hershey Bears saved their best for last in the East Division Semi-final matchup against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Wednesday night at Giant Center by totally taming the Tigers attack, allowing only seven shots on goal, and prevailing 4-1 and winning the series in the process.
After a disappointing loss in Bridgeport on Sunday, the Bears jumped out to a 1-0 lead 3:25 into the contest when Karl Alzner’s point shot caromed off the body of Bridgeport defenseman, Dustin Kohn, and then behind goaltender, Mikko Koskinen. Alzner’s goal was the first first-period goal that the Bears scored in the series, and was also his first professional playoff goal.
“I was wide open there. I’m not sure exactly where their forwards were, and Colly knew I was there and gave it to me,” Alzner said. “I was ready to shoot it and there were two guys coming in on me and I tried to get it between them, and I must have hit one of them. I don’t think I could pick a corner like that.”
Hershey’s defensive corps, which was shutout in the first four games of the series, while watching Bridgeport’s backliners light the lamp five times, netted another goal when Zach Miskovic rang a shot off the post and then behind Koskinen at 9:29.
“It’s tough to see the other team’s D men chipping in and with goals, even though they have an unbelievably talented defensive unit with guys who have played a lot of NHL games,” commented Alzner. “For us, we just want to help the team out. It doesn’t really matter what the other team is doing, but the teams who are successful are the teams who have everybody working together.”
Bridgeport, although limited to one shot in the opening frame, made it count when defenseman, Dylan Reese, converted Chris Bourque’s blueline giveaway into a shorthanded goal at 12:42.
Kyle Wilson quickly countered the Reese goal when he willed home his second goal of the series, beating Koskinen with an unassisted goal through the seven-hole at 14:51 to close out the first period scoring.
“Not a chance,” said Wilson on whether he was trying to put the shot under the goalie’s arm. “It was one of those things where you’ve got to screen because the defenseman stepped up on you. It gives you an opportunity to shoot through them, and you take it by picking a side of the net and shooting there and hoping that you got a quick shot off that the goalie wasn’t ready for.”
Only a dozen seconds into the second stanza, the Bears found themselves the recipients of a five-on-three power play when Bridgeport’s Robin Figren (late first period) and Andrew MacDonald took minor penalties.
Koskinen temporarily held the home team at bay in the early stages of the advantage, stopping Alexandre Giroux’s point blank attempt, and getting some help from the post on Mathieu Perreault’s shot before succumbing to Giroux’s one-time blast from the left faceoff dot at 1:32.
Bear’s goaltender, Michal Neuvirth, made a highlight reel save with just over two minutes left in the period with the Sound Tigers on a power play, diving across the crease to stick away Michael Davies’ slapshot.
“I wasn’t really in the game (because of lack of shots),” said Neuvirth, who has not allowed more than two goals in his last eight playoff outings. “I was trying to stay focused the whole game. I think I did my best and helped the guys win the hockey game.”
“That was unbelievable,” said Alzner of Neuvirth’s stellar stick save. “I’m happy he made it. I thought he was in front of the net, because as soon as the guy shot, I stepped out of the way. I thought he was standing there with no one in front of him, so the smart plan in that case is for the D man to get out of the way and let him have it. As soon as I turned and looked and he wasn’t in the net and I was sweating thinking ‘please make the save’. That’s Neuvy for you. He makes saves that you don’t know how he does it.”