Hershey got timely goaltending, solid defense, and just enough offense to finish off the series with the Manchester Monarchs and now await the Western Conference winner in the Calder Cup Finals!!!
It didn't start out so good though. Manchester took a 1-0 lead into the first period thanks to a mistake by Bears goalie Michal Neuvirth and some miscommunication between the rest of the team. An icing call was upcoming until Neuvy left his crease as he debated playing the puck. Whether or not he played it or not doesn't matter, the linesman waived off the icing (with plenty of time left for Hershey to know it) but the Bears didn't see that and played the puck like they would a touch up.
But Manchester didn't stop and converted the mistake into a 1-0 lead. With less than 20 seconds to go in the period, that is a tough goal to take.
It seemed to effect Hershey in the second as well as they seemed a little slow and unfocused while the Monarchs came to play. There were numerous close calls in the 2nd including a Monarch missing a wide open net and Patty McNeill doing his best Neuvy impersonation with what was probably the save of the night. The puck was about to cross the goal line after getting by Neuvy but McNeill swept it away to keep the Bears within striking distance.
Overall the Monarchs outplayed the Bears for much of the game. But in the third Hershey came to play. They doubled their shot total from the first two periods with 13 in the third period alone and scored twice.
Really the difference seemed to be that Manchester didn't block as many shots. The Giroux goal came on a rebound and the McNeill goal was really just a weak wrister that didn't get knocked down and Bernier likely never saw.
Not sure if it was the depth or just more determination from Hershey but they owned the third period and overtime.
And Boyd Kane was the hero in overtime. After a McNeill shot went wide, Kyle Wilson picked it up, went around the back of the net and fed the puck to Kane's stick where he put it behind Bernier and ended the Monarchs season.
Much of this week I bashed Kane's offensive prowess as he was playing on the top line but he managed to be the offensive hero last night. Playing on the third line for the last 2 games seemed to fit him better and the entire team seemed to benefit from it.
The other player that really seemed to key some offensive play was Cody Eakin. He played on the 4th line with Joudrey and Rome and for the first two periods that line was probably Hershey's best.
Getting a little more offense on the 4th line was key to keeping them on the ice more. During games 4 and 5 it seemed like the 4th line was barely used. Thanks to the Gordon injury the depth that carried the Bears for much of the season seemed to diminish due to players having to move up onto other lines. So bringing Eakin back from summer vacation seemed like a good move and it proved to be just that last night.
The return of McNeill to the lineup was also huge. Sure he made it back in game 4 but that was the game with 7 defensemen and I am not sure how much he actually played. He took the place of Greg Amadio last night and he provided a much needed offensive spark from the blue line. Prior to last night John Carlson was really the only d-man pushing the puck and jumping into the play. Which for many teams, like Manchester, that wouldn't change much. But Hershey, like Washington, relies on their defense to pinch in, keep pucks in the zone, and jump up on the rush.
So not having that for a few games was part of the offensive struggles. Last night McNeill added that element to a 2nd line. And it paid huge dividends.
Now comes the waiting part. Hamilton took a 3-2 series lead last night in Texas. The series now heads back to Hamilton for games 6 and, if necessary, 7. Obviously Texas is up against it here and odds are Hamilton will face Hershey in the Calder Cup Finals.
Seems familiar doesn't it?? 3 years ago Hershey beat Manchester to advance to their second straight Calder Cup Finals where they ran into the Hamilton Bulldogs and lost in 5 games.
This is a different, more talented Bears team and a different outcome is expected.
For those of you at the game last night you might have heard the public address announcer make the announcement that games 1 and 2 will be in Hershey. Which is how it should be. But because of the circus coming to town from the 26-31 that isn't necessarily how it will be.
It was reported in Hamilton a few days ago that if Hershey and Hamilton were to square off in the finals that the series would go 2-3-1-1. Meaning games 1,2 in Hamilton followed by 3 straight in Hershey, game 6 in Hamilton, and back to Hershey for game 7.
So Hershey COULD actually be the top seed and start a series on the road. It wouldn't be exactly optimum but if they were able to split those 2 games it surely would make things extremely difficult for the Bulldogs.
But that is a discussion for another time. Congrats to the Bears for winning their 4th Eastern Conference title in the past 5 seasons. What a stretch of hockey it has been!!
LET'S GO BEARS!!!!!