Jonathan Bernier made spectacular save after spectacular save to give the Manchester Monarchs a chance. In the end though, the Hershey Bears massive attack was just too strong.
Francois Bouchard backhanded a rebound past Bernier 10:38 into overtime and Hershey beat Manchester 3-2 in Game 5 of the AHL Eastern Conference Finals.
“It leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth after you competed hard the whole game,” said Monarchs coach Mark Morris.
The Bears now head back to Hershey with a 3-2 series lead and a chance to get back to the Calder Cup Finals with a win.
Manchester’s Jacob Muzzin thought he would be the hero after his score with 2:34 to go in regulation. Muzzin blasted a one time shot from Thomas Hickey into the upper corner past Hershey goalie Michal Neuvirth. Bears forward Alexandre Giroux caused the power play after intentionally running through the crease to knock Jonathan Bernier’s stick out of his hands, a goaltender interference call.
The Monarchs kept the puck in the offensive zone the entire power play. Bud Holloway came within inches of beating Neuvirth for a second time, but had his rebound chance deflected wide. Hickey then made a great save on Hershey’s clear attempt and set up Muzzin for the goal.
“The penalty killers were a little scrambled around and they rushed it out to (Hickey),” said Muzzin. “He made a great play and I was fortunate to put it in the corner.”
Hershey had just enough time to launch another attack and capitalized. With the goalie pulled, Chris Bourque beat Bernier from the right circle with 50 seconds left. The dangerous Bourque was left alone on the side boards as Manchester defenseman Andrew Campbell rotated just a bit late and didn’t come out far enough to challenge the shot.
“We had pretty good coverage, but ended up screening our own goalie,” said Morris.
Holloway scored what was initially thought to be the game winner minutes into the third period. Given the way both netminders had played through the first forty minutes, one goal seemed as if it were going to be enough. Holloway collected a puck in the right circle and snapped a laser past Neuvirth for seventh goal of the postseason.
Like Muzzin’s, Holloway’s score came on the power play, an area where the Monarchs wanted to improve after several missed opportunities Tuesday night in Game 4.
“It was nice to see our power play clicking,” said Holloway. “Everyone was going hard, but (Hershey) came out on top tonight. It was a tight game.”
Hershey’s Kyle Wilson came up with a matching tally for Holloway’s score later in the third. Boyd Kane fed the puck through a wide open slot and into Wilson. It was unclear whether or not Wilson got a stick on the puck to put it past Bernier or if he kicked it in.
“It definitely went off his skates, but it’s hard to tell if he booted it in,” said Morris.
However, the officials on the ice ruled it good the moment it went in, and could not take a look at it because of the lack of replay in the AHL.
“That’s probably the third time that’s happened to us,” Morris added. “You hate to see that because I didn’t think they had a whole lot going for them until that point.”
The Monarchs defense held tough in front of Bernier for most of the first two periods. After Tuesday’s lackluster effort, the Bears came out and made sure to test Manchester’s goalie early.
“I think we sat back in the first, but we gained momentum as the game got going,” said Bernier who finished with 32 saves to Neuvirth’s 27.
Manchester eventually climbed back on the effort side and gained control in the third, but just couldn’t quite close the deal.
“We had some close calls,” said Morris. “You can’t fault the effort, but we showed our youth there at the end.”
The best-of-seven series now shifts back to Hershey where the Bears are practically unbeatable. The Bears have lost just six home games all year, and only one after November. In order to move to their first Calder Cup Finals, Manchester’s going to need to win two straight. That may seem and impossible task, but Morris knows that his team has tons of character and are going to make themselves a tough out.
“They’re going to have to earn it, if they’re going to beat us,” he said.
Game 6 is Saturday night in Hershey at 7:00.