For the 7th time, the WBS Penguins and Hershey Bears took to the ice in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Hershey overcame a 2-1 series deficit to defeat the Portland Pirates in five games, while WBS swept the Providence Bruins way back on April 23 and had to wait through 10 off days to take the ice again.
Expected #WBSPens Lines:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) May 4, 2016
Expected #WBSPens D-pairings:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) May 4, 2016
With Steve Oleksy and Tom Sestito called up to Pittsburgh for Game 4 against Washington, Adam Krause was inserted into the fourth line to take Sestito's place, and Harrison Ruopp took Oleksy's place alongside Niclas Andersen. Neither Oleksy nor Sestito played.
It took all of 45 seconds for the answer to the question "rest vs. rust" to reveal itself...
That's Daniel Sprong taking a breakaway pass from Dustin Jeffrey and beating Justin Peters for his fourth goal of the playoffs, breaking the tie he had with Jake Guentzel for the team lead. Kael Mouillerat was awarded the second assist, and WBS was off and running.
WBS would keep the pressure on for the majority of the first period, killing off a holding penalty by Teddy Blueger and recording 18 shots in the first period to Hershey's 6. WBS had an opportunity to expand their lead to 2-0 late in the first, when Hershey's Aaron Ness covered the puck in the Hershey crease for a penalty shot, but...
One thing about WBS over the years: They have been horrible at penalty shots in their lifetime. Maybe we should start declining those. Or taking power plays instead. 1-0 after 20 minutes.
Just as in the first period, the Penguins stormed out of the locker rooms...
That's Ryan Parent with the point shot way back near the blue line, but it's Carter Rowney, #17, who got the deflection past Peters for his second goal of the playoffs. Not pictured is the second assist, given to Barry Goers.
Hershey would bring several strong chances after that goal looking to cut into the lead, but Casey DeSmith, granted the Game 1 start after an outstanding Providence series, continued his strong form, stopping all 12 Hershey shots he faced in the second to take WBS to the locker rooms with a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes.
One of the overriding themes from the Providence series was WBS taking leads into the third period of all 3 of their victories, but losing them all and needing OT to win the games. One of my things to watch in this series was therefore the third period, specifically whether or not WBS would become stronger defensively against Hershey in the final 20.
After an early penalty kill, the most dynamic junior player to come through WBS for the playoffs in years, maybe ever, provided the answer.
Tim Erixon and Jake Guentzel got assists for Sprong's goal, a power play goal, and WBS expanded its lead to 3-0.
Hershey would get another PP in the third, as well as a Nathan Walker penalty shot, but DeSmith continued to stop everything he saw.
Hershey even went so far as to pull their goalie with over 4 minutes to go to try to pull back some of the lead, and they were assisted by yet another Hershey PP as Ryan Parent sat for tripping with 3:42 to go, but not even that was enough as the captain, Tom Kostopoulos, scored a shorthanded goal into an empty Bears net with 2:53 to go.
The game ended with Liam O'Brien laying a very hard hit on Dominik Simon in the final minute, as shown here thanks to Jason Iacona over at Chirps from Center Ice:
Here is that hit by Liam O'Brien pic.twitter.com/haOGi03DSt— Jason Iacona (@nafsnep) May 5, 2016
O'Brien got a major for charging and a game misconduct, but I have a sneaking suspicion we'll hear from the league office before Game 2 on Friday.
Hershey outshot WBS 15-4 in the third period, leading to a full-game total of 33-31 over the Penguins, but DeSmith shut them all down for a 4-0 WBS victory, his first playoff shutout, and first star honors for the night. Daniel Sprong's two goals were good for second star, while Barry Goers earned third star honors for one secondary assist and exemplary defense all night alongside Ryan Parent.
The series continues on Friday night in Hershey, as the Bears attempt to claw back to even before coming up I-81 to the WB for Game 3 on Saturday and Game 4 on Monday.