BEARS SHUT DOWN PENS IN GAME SIX
HERSHEY, PA - The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins showed just what an urgent hockey team can do during three home games against the Hershey Bears in the East Division Finals.
The Pens entered that stretch in a two-games-to-none hole, then dug themselves out with an overtime victory in Game Three, and back-to-back outstanding performances in Games Four and Five.
Sunday night, it was Hershey's turn to play desperate hockey.
The Bears peppered Adam Berkhoel with 43 shots, and came away with a 3-0 win in Game Six at the Giant Center. The victory sets up a winner-take-all contest on Tuesday night in Chocolatetown.
"I couldn't see a different way of it all shaking out against Hershey than in a game seven in their building," said head coach Todd Reirden. "It will be a great game. Game seven's always a special time, and you find your real high-end player and top guys always step up to the plate in that game. Certainly I think the world of the character in our room."
The Penguins will need that character, plus a sustained effort, if they are to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second consecutive season. That's something that was lacking on Sunday night.
"Elimination games are always difficult ones to win. Tonight they were a little sharper than we were," stated Reirden. "We weren't at our best tonight, and they were. They were an urgent, desperate hockey team that had to win the game to go on. I look for our urgency and desperation to be where it was at the last few nights at home come Tuesday night."
The Bears did something to the Penguins on Sunday that hadn't been done for a string of 124 games - they held the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton offense off the board. The last time that happened was March 21, 2008, when the Albany River Rats posted a 3-0 win.
Michal Neuvirth was the man who broke the Pens streak with a 30 save performance, but Adam Berkhoel was just as impressive despite taking the loss. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton netminder made 40 saves in his first loss of the post-season.
"He was outstanding tonight, and I couldn't be any happier with the way he's playing," Reirden said of the man who has been subbing for an injured John Curry. Berkhoel has now stopped 145 of 154 shots he has faced in four-plus games in the series.
The Bears took a 1-0 lead 11:35 into the game when Andrew Gordon took a pass from behind the Penguins' goal line and circled around the top of the crease, using two players as a screen to put home his third goal of the playoffs.
Hershey extended the lead 22 seconds into the second period, when Darren Reid broke in alone and picked the far corner over Berkhoel's left shoulder for his second goal in as many nights. And Alexandre Giroux got on the board with a wraparound that he tucked between Berkhoel's left skate and the near post on a power play less than three minutes later to finish off the scoring.
Unlike previous games, the Penguins were not able to capitalize on their power play chances, going 0-for-4 on the man advantage while Hershey went 1-for-7.
Still, Reirden said the team has confidence heading into Tuesday night's series finale.
"Before the series if you would have said we're one game to go to the conference finals, we all would have taken it," he said. "I look forward to seeing our best game of the year on Tuesday night."
NOTES: The Pens hadn't been shut out in the playoffs since May 5, 2007, when the Bears posted a 2-0 win in Game Three of the East Division Finals. The Penguins have now been shut out five times in eight trips to the Calder Cup postseason, with Hershey putting up four of those clean sheets...The Penguins are 4-0 in Game Sevens all-time, and 5-0 in mutual elimination games. They won Game Five of the 2001 Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Syracuse Crunch, which was a best-of-five series. They won two Game Sevens during the 2004 playoffs (April 25 @ Bridgeport, 3-2 in OT; May 29 @ Hartford, 2-1 in OT), one in 2006 (April 29 vs. Bridgeport, 5-4) and one in 2008 (May 24 vs. Portland, 3-2).