The Hershey Bears played host to the Charlotte Checkers in arguably the most critical game of the year for the Brown and White. Three nights prior to Sunday, the Bears and Checkers opened the series at Giant Center in front of the Bears’ faithful.
After exiting the second intermission tied three goals a side on Thursday, the Checkers tallied twice in the third and beat Hershey by a 5-4 margin.
Mark French’s club looked to answer back Sunday and send the series back to North Carolina all tied up. Four different Bears scored in route to a 4-2 win over the Charlotte Checkers. Patrick McNeil opened the scoring early for Hershey, but Brian Willsie’s tally at 7:08 of the second period proved to be the game winner.
Early on, the Checkers attempted to use their speed right out of the starting gate to generate scoring chances on net, and pick up right from where they left off on Thursday. The Bears would later gain a 40 second 5-on-3 man advantage after two Charlotte careless defensive penalties in front of their netminder.
The Bears were unable to score on the man-advantages early, but later gained an even strength opportunity in which Justin Pogge would bobble into his own net.
12:02 in, from a sharp angle Patrick McNeil would fire a shot off a rebound that Pogge initialy attempted to stop with his blocker. The puck would carrom off the blocker and inside the near post to give McNeil his first goal of the postseason after a Keith Aucoin shot.
It would be the lone mark of the opening 20 minutes with the Bears hanging on to a slim one goal lead.
Hershey would come out of the locker room at the start of the second frame and take a two goal lead for the first time in the series. Andrew Kozek would let go a quick release on a wrist shot Pogge wasn’t ready for. Only 35 seconds later, Zac Dalpe would do the same for the Checkers, tallying on a wrist shot passed an unstable Braden Holtby low to the ice.
2:08 following the Checkers’ mark cutting the Hershey lead in half, Brian Willsie would re-give the Bears a two goal advantage. It was believed to be the games turning point, as the Bears were responding back constantly in attempt to steal away Charlotte’s momentum.
Mathieu Perreault would drop a pass off for Brian Willsie in the high-slot before he teed it past the Charlotte goalkeeper. The offensive game for each team would continue to rise through out the stanza. After Keith Aucoin was sent to the box for Hershey for a neutral zone trip, the Checkers would return to the power play in effort of answering back.
After fanning on several power play opportunities earlier and in game one, the Checkers would capitalize on special teams for the first time in the series. Rookie, Zac Dalpe would pot his second of the night, third of the series on a bullet past a screened Braden Holtby. Hershey’s lead was again cut to one goal, at 3-2.
Former Edmonton Oiler, Sheldon Souray would be next to join the scoring party for Hershey, blasting a shorthanded goal off a drop pass from Keith Aucoin on a 3-on-2 rush. It would be the fifth and final tally between both clubs going into the third and final frame.
Before the rain of Zdeno Chara, Souray was awarded the hardest shot in the NHL. On his goal to close out the stanza with 2:55 left, it appeared he put all his body weight of 223 pounds behind the shot.
The AHL’s oldest franchise succeeded in their third period game plan on containing the pressure in the offensive end away from Braden Holtby. In doing so, they held the Checkers to only eight shots on net in the period and earned a 4-2 win to show for it.
With the Bears’ win, they have tied the best-of-seven series at one game a side going into the great state of North Carolina. It was the rebound the Bears and Bench Boss Mark French had been anticipating for going into Sunday.
Not only did the Bears respond overall by winning the game and knotting the series, but Coach French talked about how well the team responded in the game, constantly answering back after a Charlotte goal or opportunity.
“It’s always nice to respond after they score and score the next goal to get that momentum back, so I thought we did a number of things where at a number of times during the game where they ceased a little bit of momentum we were able to take it back”, commented French after the game was said and done.
The Bears will hit the road for the city best known for its Nascar on Monday. Game three of the series will take place on Tuesday, April 19.
Game time is at 7 p.m. Eastern at the Time Warner Cable Arena.