In early October, 30 teams stood all undefeated in the standings prior the regular season opener looking to get off to an exceptional start. Now 100 points later, the Hershey Bears would be one of 16 teams with the Calder Cup still weighing heavily in mind.
Similar to what the Bears have done the last five seasons under affiliation with the Washington Capitals, Hershey again reached a milestone at the conclusion of this season. For the first time in franchise history, in three consecutive seasons the Bears have reached at least 100 points in the standings.
They opened up the 2011 postseason Thursday night with their first ever playoff game against the Charlotte Checkers.
Both teams proved early on they were ready for the playoffs with fast moving play at both ends of the ice. It was Charlotte, however, showing a defensive weakness early on. After moving the puck wide, the Bears’ second line would break up the Checkers’ defense leaving only one guy in red covering the middle of the ice.
After a centering pass across, and Steve Pinizzotto would fired a quick shot over a sprawled out Justin Pogge to give the Bears a one goal advantage 1:10 into the contest. 2:48 later, quickly the team from down South would answer back.
Zac Dalpe would walk in on Braden Holtby and attempt a shot short side. On the rebound off a stick save by Holtby, Dalpe tucked the loose puck inside the net’s near post to naught the game back up.
The scoring affair would continue as just over three minutes later, Chris Terry would tally for Charlotte. A shot through the five hole would give the team who was top three in the AHL in scoring during the season an advantage.
Late in the period the Bears would face an abbreviated power play and an opportunity to go into the locker room on a high note. Keith Aucoin would stuff a shot short side on Pogge from the right face off circle.
After the opening 20 minutes, 2-2 would be the score with Hershey having the slight shot advantage, leading 10-9.
The middle 20 minutes would get off to similar fashion with both teams getting opportunities on net. Following a delay of game penalty to the Checkers’ Bobby Sanguinetti the Bears possessed a power play in the middle minutes.
Following a tie up along the boards at the Charlotte point, the Checks won the 50-50 battle and advanced forward with a 2-on-1 rush. On the rebound off a shot that hit Holtby’s leg pad, Brett Bellemore fired home the biscuit into a wide open 4X6 feet cage to reclaim a one-goal advantage.
With 6:49 remaining in the stanza, Boyd Kane would bring the crowd back to life on a soft wrister that found its way past Justin Pogge. In addition to the tally, the contest would be tied for the third time in just over 30 minutes.
It would be the final tally for either side after 40 minutes, with both teams splitting a total of six goals evenly. Shots would continue to give Hershey an edge, as they out shot the Red and White 17-7 in the period for a two period total of 27-16.
To start the final, and most critical 20 minutes, the Bears’ Brian Willsie would score 1:42 in to give the Bears a lead for the first time since the 3:57 mark of the opening stanza. A slap shot from just inside the point, top shelf on Pogge would make it a 4-3 game.
The Checkers, as they have done all game, answered back. Zach Boychuck would tally for Charlotte and tie the game for a fourth time. The mark would only set the stage for Drayson Bowman. Only 1:58 following the tying tally, he would run with the momentum as the Bears then began to make carless errors in their own end, not clearing the puck out of the defensive zone. Bowman scored for Charlotte on a quick snap shot to the far post on Holtby.
Charlotte would have to protect a slim one goal advantage with 9:22 remaining following the goal. In front of a silenced Giant Center crowd of 7,280, the Checkers were able to force the Bears offense to the outside boards and hold them off the scoreboard for the remainder of regulation.
“I thought in the third period we got away from our game plan, and we were able to control the first two periods in the offensive zone play”, stated a disappointed Mark French following the game. Charlotte with their 5-4 win over Hershey, has taken a one game to none lead over Hershey in the best-of-seven, East Division Semi-final.
Also with Charlottes’ win, they snatch home ice away from Hershey as there will be one more game in Hershey on Sunday, then three games to follow in North Carolina. Even if Hershey would go on to tie the series with a win on Sunday, it will still be tied 1-1 prior to three games on the Checkers’ home rink.