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WBS Penguins lose Game 7 to the Hershey Bears in Overtime

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The most even series imaginable comes down to overtime, and the last shot falls to the Bears. The WBS season ends in heartbreak once again.

WBS Penguins

Every morning during these playoffs, the American Hockey League releases a "Morning Skate" news update, recapping the prior night's events and previewing the current day's games.  Here are some notes from the May 15th Morning Skate, found here

Through 18 games played between the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and the Hershey Bears during 2015-16, each team won nine.  The team scoring first has won each game.
Through 36 all-time playoff games played between WBS and Hershey, each team won 18.
Each team has won three playoff series against the other.
As of the morning of May 15, Hershey was 8-8 all-time in Game 7, tied with the Rochester Americans for the most Game 7 wins in AHL history; WBS was 6-2 all-time in Game 7, with one of those losses to Hershey in 2009.

So, for as even as the 2015-16 season has been between Hershey and WBS, and with how even the playoff history has been between the two franchises, it seemed only fitting that this year's playoff series between the two would come to a tie-breaking, winner-advances Game 7.
No change in the forward lines for WBS from Game 6 to Game 7, but a huge change on the defense pairs as All-Star defender Will O'Neill missed Game 7 in favor of Reid McNeil, making his first start of these playoffs.  There were no changes in the Hershey lineup.  Despite being removed from Game 6 after 20 minutes having allowed 4 goals on 12 shots, the Bears went back to Justin Peters in the net, while the Penguins stayed with their Game 6 victor Casey DeSmith.

1st Period

The last time WBS and Hershey played a Game 7, it was in Hershey in 2009.  Keith Aucoin scored the eventual game-winning goal just 50 seconds into the game to kick off a 3-0 shutout win.  WBS did better than that in this Game 7, but not by much.
Great individual effort by Dustin Gazley, intercepting a clearing attempt by DeSmith and squeaking the puck into the goal before DeSmith could get set again.  The crucial first goal of the game, the one that signified the winner of all 18 previous games between the teams this season and postseason, was unassisted just 1:33 into the game.

Unlike in 2009, however, WBS countered.  With Hershey's penalty killer extraordinaire Zach Sill in the box for a check to the head...
That's Matthias Plachta jamming home the equalizer for the first goal of his Calder Cup playoff career, with Dustin Jeffrey and Carter Rowney getting assists at 7:15 of the first.  It doesn't have to be pretty as long as it works, and this worked out just fine.

The rest of the first period featured the third fight of the series between WBS's Tom Sestito and Hershey's Liam O'Brien and two additional power plays for each team, but no further goals.  Final shots in the first period were 11-9 to the Bears.

2nd Period

The second period featured no penalties and lots of back and forth action largely dominated by WBS.  It took all of Justin Peters's skills to keep WBS off the scoreboard in the second, stopping all 11 shots he faced and watching another glance off the post.  Hershey started to build some momentum during the late part of the period, and several failed clearing attempts by WBS extended the shift to a dangerous extent.  WBS could only get a partial change once they did clear the puck, and it quickly fell back to Carter Camper for undoubtedly the goal of the series.
Tough break by Ethan Prow on defense, as he appeared to follow Riley Barber on the rush instead of holding his position, and Camper twisted DeSmith into knots before burying the second goal of the game.  Assists on the scoreboard went to Ryan Stanton and Erik Burgdoerfer, but Barber deserves a fair amount of credit for distracting Prow enough to give Camper the room he needed to score.  The second period ended 2-1 to Hershey, with total shots favoring WBS 20-16.

3rd Period

With the season on the line, the Penguins shortened their bench dramatically to start the third period, moving Daneiel Sprong back onto the Dustin Jeffrey-Kael Mouillierat pairing and alternating that line and Tom Kostopoulos's line exclusively.  The risk paid off.
Quick centering pass by Jeffrey to Sprong that beats Peters but not the post, and the shot had such force off the post that it hit the back of Peters's leg and off the post again, where it just stopped.  So tantalizingly close.  Then Mouillierat beat the defender Madison Bowey to the loose puck to tie the game.  It would not have been a bad play by Bowey to either clear it with his hand or cover it with his hand and risk a penalty shot, because WBS has historically been terrible at those, but Mouillierat eliminated all questions with his effort to level the proceedings at 3:53 of the third.

WBS continued to pile on the pressure through the third.  Hershey put itself at something of a disadvantage with 10:08 to go, as Ryan Stanton threw the stick of Tom Kostopoulos to earn a misconduct penalty and take Hershey down to 5 defenders for the back half of the third period, but no power play was given.  Despite WBS outshooting Hershey 11-4 in the third, they could not break the tie, and just as it seemed fitting that this even series went to a Game 7, it seems even more fitting that this even Game 7 would go to sudden-elimination overtime.

Overtime

The Penguins controlled the early part of the overtime, with long spells of possession and three top-quality shots, but Peters stopped them all.  Hershey started to take command in a scene eerily reminiscent of their second goal as the overtime period neared the halfway mark, but it appeared that WBS would be saved by the weird rule that in OT, the game stops for mid-period ice cleaning even on an icing.  WBS iced the puck just after the halfway mark and while they were not able to change, they did get a rest.

Travis Boyd rendered this irrelevant.
Game, set, series.

Erik Burgdoerfer took third star honors for this Game 7 with two assists.  Carter Camper took second star honors with the goal of the series, and the obvious top star was Travis Boyd with the series-winner at 10:57 of overtime.


Postmortem

The Hershey Bears now advance to the Eastern Conference finals, where they await the winner of the outstanding North Division finals between the Albany Devils and Toronto Marlies, which as of this writing is tied 3-3 with Game 7 scheduled for Monday, May 16.

The WBS Penguins and their supporters, meanwhile, are left to ponder yet another second-round playoff exit, the ninth time in 14 chances they have failed to advance past their second series.  We are left to celebrate a roller coaster ride of a season, which started with 18 wins in 23 games before Mike Sullivan was promoted to Pittsburgh and ended with their 11th consecutive regular season of 40 or more wins and their 14th straight playoff appearance.

Most painfully, perhaps, we are left to wonder "what could have been", with the aforementioned Sullivan leading a team that, during a 4-0 win on December 11 in Lehigh Valley, featured Kevin Porter, Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, Scott Wilson, Oskar Sundqvist, Conor Sheary, Derrick Pouliot, and Matt Murray.  Sullivan was promoted to Pittsburgh the next morning, and none of those players featured for WBS in their final game of the season.

Which is kinda the point.  Right?