For the Hershey Bears, it was all about defense on Monday night at Giant Center in game six of their Calder Cup Finals matchup against the Texas Stars.
After their defense, backstopped by Michal Neuvirth, weathered an early Texas Stars storm in the first minute of the game, the defense turned offensive, scoring all four goals as the Bears finished off the Stars and captured their league record 11th Calder Cup Championship by emerging with a 4-0 win.
The Bears, after surviving Texas’ initial surge, found their offensive groove and started pecking away at Texas’ starter in the cage, Brent Krahn,who was making his first start of the series.
Krahn, who had not played since game six of Texas’ West Division Finals matchup against the Chicago Wolves, a game in which he departed late in the first period after suffering a concussion resulting from a collision with a goalpost, was under a constant first period barrage of shots from the Bears after Boyd Kane put the first shot on net at 2:47.
Although Krahn was able to make several quality saves, the Bears eventually were able to cash in on the power play with their 13th shot on net which emanated from the stick of John Carlson, lighting the lamp at 12:29.
Carlson, who scored the game-winning goal in game four on the power play, had drifted down to from the point and stationed himself between the hashmarks where he converted the rebound of Alexandre Giroux’s shot for his second strike of the post-season.
“We wanted to keep the momentum that we were able to get by winning the three games down there. That was a huge goal for us, getting that first one,” said Carlson.
The Bears doubled their lead less than two minutes after Carlson’s caper, when Karl Alzner, Carlson’s companion on the blueline, authored home his third goal of the playoffs, beating Krahn low to the short side with a shot from high along the boards at 14:23.
“Those are tough shots to take when they come off of the wall because they usually have a lot of spin,” said Alzner. “There was also a guy coming in the shooting lane, so I just tried to get it by him. My stick felt good in warm-ups and it felt real good after that goal.”
The duo of Carlson and Alzner, both expected to contend for full-time duty with the Washington Capitals next season, were not only able to provide a combined eight points in the series against the Stars (4 goals, 4 assists), but were also able to shut down the Jamie Benn line, limiting Benn to only a pair of helpers in the series.
“We talked about shutting that line down throughout the series” said Alzner. “The guys were calling us “Karl and Sons” and that was our identity I guess you could say. Me and Carly split things up, he played most of the offense and I tried to play the defense. Carly did an unbelievable job of shutting him down on the right side, and I don’t think we could have done any better job than we did on his line.”
The Stars, who were substantially outshot in the first period, 17-10, evened those numbers up a bit in the second period, but in the latter stages of the frame, defenseman, Patrick McNeill, converted another Giroux shot for a goal at 14:47 giving the Bears a 3-0 lead.
“I saw an opportunity to jump in the play, and maybe create an odd-man rush,” McNeill said. “G made a smart play by throwing the puck on net and luckily, the rebound came right to me.”
A full period and five seconds after his second period goal, McNeill was at it again, launching a low laser of a wrist shot by a screened Krahn that gave the Bears a 4-0 lead and essentially squashed any hopes of a Texas comeback.
After the game, McNeill, who returned to the Hershey lineup late in the Manchester series after being felled by an injury in the Bears’ round one match-up with Albany, said from a personal standpoint, this year’s title triumph trumps the last one.
“Because I played a bigger role, and had to come back from an injury to do so, this one is definitely more special to me than last year.”