The Hershey Bears have found themselves in a couple of trenches during this post-season, but if they are going to repeat as Calder Cup Champions, they are going to have to dig themselves out of a huge, Texas- sized hole after dropping their second straight home game to the Texas Stars at Giant Center on Saturday night, 4-3.
Facing the sizable 0-2 series deficit, the Bears must now win two of the next three games in the series, all slated to be contested in Cedar Park Center, the home of the Stars, if they are to bring the series back to Giant Center for another game.
With the vocal sellout crowd of 10,872 still settling into their seats, the Stars took a 1-0 lead only a minute into the contest when Aaron Gagnon’s breakaway bid slithered through the pads of Bears netminder, Michal Neuvirth.
In a repeat of game one’s first period performance in which they could only muster two shots on net, the Bears struggled in that department in the early portion of the period, only getting one shot on net before Steve Pinizzotto’s short-side, shorthanded slapshot buzzed by Stars’ stopper, Matt Climie, at 7:40 to knot the score at one.
Late in the first period, the Bears came within a whisker of taking a lead into the intermission, but Andrew Gordon’s rebound attempt of an Alexandre Giroux shot clanged off the post and stayed out of the net.
After Neuvirth foiled quality scoring chances by Francis Wathier and Raymond Sawada in the first half of the second frame, the wily Stars struck for their second goal of the game at 11:03 when Garrett Stafford’s weak power play point shot took on a chaotic life off its own, first bouncing off of Andrew Joudrey and then Bryan Helmer before finding a resting place in Hershey’s net at 11:03.
“I hit the puck, and then it went off of my shin pad and into the net,” explained Helmer. “It’s unfortunate and obviously I was peeved, but what can you do? The important thing is that we responded quickly to it.”
Francois Bouchard was the responder that Helmer spoke of, striking for his fourth goal of the playoffs from just inside the blueline at 11:49.
The Stars’ transition game, combined with some shoddy checking by the Bears’ defense, led to Texas regaining the lead in the opening stages of the third period, with former Bear, Mathier Beaudoin, doing the lamp-lighting honors at 3:18.
Beaudoin, who played seven games with the Bears in 07-08, had an easy tap-in to net his seventh goal of the post-season, after forward Perttu Lindgren, managed to elude a trio of Hershey defenders before putting a perfect pass on the stick of the unattended Beaudion.
According to Stars head coach, Glen Gulutzan, Texas’s transitional game, which has given the Bears fits thus far in the series, has not been such an asset all season long.
“We were anchored by our defense and goalie (earlier in the year), but as our forwards got a little more mature and some guys got an opportunity (like) Travis Morin, and Greg Rallo, guys who had played limited at this level got better, our forwards got better,” said Gulutzan after the game.
Facing third period deficits is nothing new to the Bears in this post-season, and they responded favorably to the task at 10:44, when Andrew Gordon whistled the rebound of a Patrick Wellar shot into the Texas cage at 10:44.
Just past the midway point of the third period, with Jamie Benn already in the penalty box serving his cross-checking sentence, Matt Stephenson clipped Giroux with a high-stick at 13:16, resulting in a four minute double minor penalty to Stephenson.
The Stars survived the five-on-three situation and just about all of the first half of Stephenson’ sentence before Bears’ alternate captain, Boyd Kane, was whistled off of the ice for a double minor spearing penalty at 15:03 which short circuited the Hershey power play.
“In playoff hockey, sometimes the emotions run high. Tonight, I thought our team kind of was on the officials too much. That has been a problem at times this year, but we have tended to get away with it in the regular season; but, in the playoffs it can be another story and we paid the price for it tonight,” said Helmer.
After Stephenson was released from the sin bin, the Bears’ penalty killing unit did their job and avoided giving up the game-winning goal on the power play, but just seconds after Kane was able to leave the penalty box, former Bear, Travis Morin, managed to chip a shot over Neuvirth and into the net at 19:-14 to give the visitors the win.
Helmer, who captained the Bears to the Calder Cup last season when they faced down the Manitoba Moose on foreign ice to capture the title, has faith that this year’s club can pull things together on the road and bring the series back to Giant Center.
“We’ve been through adversity before and responded favorably, so we know that we can do it. We have a lot of character on this team and we still believe in each other, but we have to play a team game to win.”