Blanchard Leads Checkers Past Bears

Going into Game Six between the Hershey Bears and Charlotte Checkers, the Bears would face elimination inside their own arena. It was a light crowd at Giant Center watching what might have been the funeral for the two-time defending Calder Cup Champions.

Down three games to two against the Checkers going into Easter Sunday, Brian Fahey scored a late goal to tie the game and send it into overtime, where shortly into the extra frame Nicolas Blanchard hit paydirt for Charlotte. Charlotte’s players rushed off the bench to mob Blanchard, and goaltender Mike Murphy.

For the first time in the series, the Checkers would get on the scoreboard first and take only 35 seconds in doing so. Brett Sutter wide open on the back door side of the cage stuffed a loose puck passed a hand cuffed Braden Holtby.

Braden Holtby would show his continuous struggles early on, appearing to be tied up on every shot he faced. He would enter the game with a high goals against average of 3.23, and low save-percentage of .885.

Sutter’s goal would carry out to be the lone mark in the stanza with both teams receiving opportunities on either side. Each team had two power plays to work with, including a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:12 in Hershey’s corner. With the Bears’ inability to cash in on the man-advantage, they fell to only 1-for-26 on power play opportunities in the series.

Opportunities for Charlotte in the middle period would sky-rocket, as they were handed two more power plays. Despite the horrible power play for Hershey, a great consistent penalty kill kept it a one goal duel midway through.

The penalty kill lines hosted by Andrew Joudrey and Steve Pinizzotto would continuously force the puck to the outside boards, and win 50-50 battles for the puck allowing them to clear down ice repeatedly.

Late in the second, the Bears third and fourth lines built offensive momentum and started increasing the time of possession numbers in front of Checkers’ netminder Mike Murphy. After cycling the puck wide along the boards, Hershey would consistently attempt to force a pass through the middle of the ice, into the slot area.

Charlotte’s tight defense would deny any crisp pass through the middle, not allowing point-blank chances on Murphy.

After 40 minutes of both fast and slow-paced hockey, it would still remain 1-0 Charlotte.

The Bears would go on to fire 11 more shots in the final period of regulation in hopes of tieing the game, and ultimately the series. With 5:42 remaining in regulation, the Bears’ Brian Fahey would bomb a shot from the point that skipped past Mike Murphy.

Fahey’s strike would tie the game late and force sudden death overtime for their first time in the playoffs. It would also turn out to be their final period until October, as hopes and dreams of a Calder Cup run would soon come to an end, only 1:30 into the OT period.

A highly motivated crowd of 7,574 at Giant Center would look on following the start to OT with high anticipations. Going back a year to the 2010 Calder Cup Playoff run for Hershey, the Bears broke an AHL record by winning eight games in sudden death time after regulation.

Nicolas Blanchard only 90 seconds into the OT period would receive a quick back from behind the goal line, and bank it in past Braden Holtby on his butter fly position.

2-1 Charlotte would be the final score over Hershey taking the series in six games. The Checkers move on the face the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins who ended the regular season with the best record in the AHL. Similar to the Bears-Checkers series, the Penguins and Charlotte will also meet for the first time in postseason play.

It was a back-to-back run for Hershey coming to an end on Easter Sunday, as another AHL team new to the league looks to make history in winning the cup in their inaugural American League season.


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