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WBS Penguins win Game 6 against Hershey and force a Game 7

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WBS turns in its most complete performance of the playoffs with its season on the line, and now it's one game to advance on Sunday evening in Hershey.

WBS Penguins

Through all the personnel changes and the ebbs and flows of an AHL season, one thing remained constant all year between the WBS Penguins and the Hershey Bears.  Whoever scored first won.  It was true for all 12 games in the regular season, and it has held true for all five games of these playoffs despite WBS erasing a three-goal deficit in Game 5 before conceding a 5-3 defeat.

Throughout WBS's history, another trend has prevailed.  With their backs to the wall, WBS transforms into a different team.  Coming into Friday night's Game 6 in WBS, the Penguins were a lifetime 15-5 at home when facing elimination from the playoffs.  With these as backdrops, the Penguins and Bears contested Game 6 of their fierce Atlantic Division final series on Friday the 13th before 5,011 frenzied fans at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza.

The WBS forward lines were back to their full strength for Game 6, and with Niclas Andersen still injured, the young Ethan Prow entered the lineup for his first Calder Cup playoff game.  Coach Clark Donatelli went back to Casey DeSmith in goal.  For the Bears, Chandler Stephenson remained out with an injury.

1st Period

Suffice it to say that the first 20 minutes of this game were the most dominating 20 minutes of hockey WBS has put up against anyone this playoffs, and perhaps this season.  The Penguins were flying, clearly aware of the urgency of the moment and outshooting the Bears 12-5 in the first period, as well as getting the all-important first goal of the game.

That's Kael Mouillierat on a sharp angle beating Peters for 1-0.  Assists went to Barry Goers and Ryan Parent.

Roughly 4 minutes later, the captain of the Penguins announced rather loudly that he was not going to go to retirement on his own ice.

There's Tom Kostopoulos right there in the middle of the ice, deflecting home his fifth goal of these playoffs.  Goers got his second assist, with Jake Guentzel joining the scoresheet.

From there, things escalated very quickly for WBS and very badly for the Bears, as just as a Hershey PP ended, Kostopoulos forced a turnover in the Bears zone...

...and Carter Rowney finished beautifully for 3-0.

Just 1:26 later, enjoying a power play of their own, Kostopoulos nearly scored his second of the period, firing a low shot off the post...

...but All-Star defender Will O'Neill was right where he needed to be to finish the play for WBS's fourth goal of the period, a 4-0 lead at the first intermission, and the end of Justin Peters's evening.  Dan Ellis led the Bears out of the locker room for the second period, his first playoff action since allowing six goals to Portland in Game 1 of their first-round series.

2nd Period

Most of the fans in the building were very much enjoying themselves as the second period got underway, but I was still nervous.  The scars of WBS playoff collapses past were very much on my mind (specifically, allowing 6 goals in 12 minutes to the Philadelphia Phantoms in 2005 and allowing 4 goals to the Charlotte Checkers in 2011 to crash out of the playoffs both years), so I was not going to be completely comfortable with a lead until there was no time left to reverse it.

Tyler Lewington for Hershey did nothing to ease my nerves; in fact, he made them worse at 12:51 of the second.

Hershey's so very good at that, sneaking a player behind the defense to fire at wide-open nets.  Lewington's third of the playoffs, from Travis Boyd and Garrett Mitchell, narrowed the lead to 3 and made me clutch my chair a little bit tighter.

Thankfully, though, this night would not go like the others.  Less than 3 minutes after Lewington's goal, and just as Hershey was starting to get rolling, Jake Guentzel shut down the momentum train by scoring his fifth goal of the playoffs to make the score 5-1 after two periods.  Shots to this point were 20-17 WBS.

3rd Period

If there was any doubt to the result left in my or anyone else's minds, Carter Rowney eliminated them rather quickly at 3:30 of the third.

Jake Guentzel and Tom Kostopoulos got assists on the goal.  For Kostopoulos, that was his fourth assist running on the night, which combined with his goal in the first gave him a team-record-tying five points on the night.

From there, the game devolved somewhat into the usual shenanigans that WBS/Hershey games tend to feature, with another Tom Sestito/Liam O'Brien tussle and a Will O'Neill/Nathan Walker fight taking center stage.  Zach Sill deflected in a Chris Bourque shot on a late power play for his 2nd goal of the playoffs at 16:29 of the third, but the result was academic, and unlike the last academic result for WBS in this series, no one got injured by late hits or rough stuff.

Final score:  WBS 6, Bears 2, a tied series, and four Party Hards.

Jake Guentzel ended the night with one goal and two assists for third star honors.  His linemate Carter Rowney finished with two goals and one assist for second star honors, but the game's clear outstanding performer was the WBS captain Tom Kostopoulos, with his goal and four assists.  Casey DeSmith took the victory, doing everything he needed to do in the WBS net to stop 24 of 26 shots, while Justin Peters took the loss, stopping only 8 of 12 WBS shots in his only period of work.  Dan Ellis stopped 17 of 19 WBS shots in his two periods of relief.

As unbelievable as it may seem, with the WBS victory on Friday, everything that has transpired to this point was rendered as a prelude to a main event.  That main event takes place Sunday evening, 5:00 pm EDT, in Hershey, with Game 7.

In order to advance, WBS must do what they have only done twice in their history: Win a playoff game at GIANT Center.  The only other time WBS has played a Game 7 in GIANT Center was in 2009, and they lost 3-0.  The Penguins have seen their season end at GIANT Center three times.  But after seeing what this group of Penguins can do when they have no tomorrow, I believe this group of Penguins is as well-equipped as any to rewrite history.

Buckle up.