Thursday, May 13, 2010

Hershey Races Past Manchester

When describing the playing style of Hershey Bears’ defenseman, Sean Collins, one word that would likely be missing would be quick, but on Wednesday night at Giant Center, a quick goal by Collins only sixteen seconds into the Bears matchup with the Manchester Monarchs propelled his club to a 4-2 win and 1-0 series lead in the opening game of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Entering the contest, there were concerns about Hershey’s ability to shake off nearly two weeks of rust in the first game of the series against the Monarchs, who were only five days removed from their series against the Worcester Sharks; however, Collins’ goal quickly erased those concerns.

“It was huge,” said Chris Bourque. “We said before the game that we wanted to get things going right off the bat there and have a good start. We wanted to get the crowd into and get the boys into it. There’s nothing better to get everybody going than to a score a goal on your first shift to give everybody a positive feeling.”

Only eleven seconds after Collins’ goal, the Bears were afforded a power play and looked to have a glorious chance to extend their lead, but their anticipated sluggish start kicked in at that point as they squandered the opportunity, and managed only one more shot on Bernier for the next 8:27 of play before Bourque registered a wrist shot on net at 8:43, which turned momentum back in Hershey’s favor and narrowing the shot differential to 5-3, Manchester.

In the ninth minute of the period, the Bears went on their second power play of the contest, and judging by the early stages of it, it looked like it would end just like the first one when Manchester defenseman, Drew Bagnall, had the puck on his stick for an apparent easy chance to ice the puck the length of the ice.

However, Bourque shagged down Bagnall’s attempt at center ice and started a sequence that quickly culminated in Andrew Gordon converting the rebound of Alexandre Giroux’s shot into his 10th goal of the post-season and sixth on the power play at 10:02.

“The guy tried to clear it down and pretty much put it on my stick,” said Bourque. ” I skated backwards, and Gordon got open and I gave it to him. Coiner then made a nice play to Giroux, and it was kind of tic-tac-toe from there.”

The Monarchs came out strong in the early stages of the second period, enjoying a substantial territorial advantage, but only managing a couple harmless shots on goal despite their efforts, before Steve Pinizzotto’s unassisted goal at 7:25 gave the Bears a 3-0 lead.

Pinizzotto, know more for his ability to get under the opposition’s skin than his goal scoring abilities, showed a goal-scorer’s touch by putting a beautiful shot into the upper portion of the net after pick- pocketing Manchester defenseman, Viatcheslav Voynov, in the neutral zone.

“Whenever you can score, it’s definitely an upside,” said Pinizzotto, who has now scored a goal in every series of the playoffs. “We usually score pretty good goals here, and I just have to wait my turn and work hard every shift.”

After the Pinizzotto goal the only thing that stopped the Monarchs from getting a goal and cutting into the Bears lead was the goaltending heroics of Michal Neuvirth, who, within the space of about a minute, corralled Corey Elkins point-blank bid and then locked down Andrei Loktionov’s bid to beat him through the five-hole.

“I haven’t played in a while, but I have been practicing really hard. I got healthy over the break, and I want to keep getting better.” said Neuvirth.

Starting the third frame, Neuvirth had to be in top form once again to repel Oscar Moller’s breakaway attempt after the Manchester forward found a huge seam in the Bears’ defense and walked in all alone on him.

“That was a nice old-school save,” said Neuvirth, describing the stacking-the-pads strategy that he employed. “I don’t even know why I did it. I’ve never used that kind of move, but I saved it, which is the point.”

Neuvirth made another spectacular save later in the third period, denying another Manchester breakaway attempt, this one by Bud Holloway, before Loktionov finally found a way to beat him at 12:32, making it a 3-1 Hershey lead.

Less than two minutes after the Loktionov goal, Hershey defenseman, Karl Alzner, finished off a two-on-one sequence with Boyd Kane by netting his second goal of the playoffs at 14:18.

Alzner started the scoring sequence off in his own zone by stopping Holloway’s advance into Hershey territory and then turning on the jets and blowing by the Manchester defense through the neutral zone.

“It helped that I did get my stick on the puck because when I did, I stopped going backwards. I was in a good position to go forward. Kaner picked it up, and I took a quick look and saw that no one was around. I was at the beginning of my shift, so I had a lot of energy. Kaner put it right where I wanted it, and I was just lucky to slide it in,” said Alzner.

The Monarchs made it a little interesting in the latter stages of the period when Gabe Gauthier found himself all alone on Neuvirth’s doorstep and dented the twine for the fourth time in the playoffs to make it a 4-2 game at 16:10, but the Hershey defense drew a definitive line in the ice and shutdown the Monarchs for the final three plus minutes to skate away with the victory.

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