The 2016 Atlantic Division Finals opened with WBS rookie goaltender Casey DeSmith recording his first professional shutout on the road in Hershey, only the second time in history WBS has won a playoff game at Hershey's current home, the GIANT Center. On Friday, in Game 2, the Bears responded, with Justin Peters recording his second shutout of the playoffs and sending the series up I-81 to Wilkes-Barre tied at 1. It was time for the Penguins to try to respond themselves.
Expected #WBSPens Lines:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) May 7, 2016
Expected #WBSPens D-pairings:— Mike O'Brien (@MikeOBrienWBS) May 7, 2016
Changes for WBS from Game 2 include Tyler Biggs replacing Sahir Gill on the fourth line, as well as Niclas Andersen rejoining the lineup in place of Ryan Parent, who picked up an injury during Game 2. For Hershey, Liam O'Brien rejoined the forward lines after his suspension for charging Dominik Simon, who remained out of the WBS lineup again in Game 3. Nathan Walker exited the lineup to make way for O'Brien.
The first period of this game was very energetic and very spirited, with the crowd of 5,108 (about 10-15% Hershey supporters making the relatively short drive up I-81 for the game) in full voice and smashing their noisemakers as hard as they could to try to will their team to victory. Both teams received two power plays in the first period, but neither was able to score with the advantage. There was only one goal scored in the first period...
There's Dustin Gazley in front of the net, taking a fumbling puck and backhanding a shot past the stick side of DeSmith. Aaron Ness and Ryan Bourque got assists. The first period ended 1-0 to the Bears, with each team registering only 9 shots on goal.
The theme of the game tonight was penalties, as referees Mark Lemelin and Evgeny Romasko whistled a grand total of 64 minutes of penalties, 27 penalties being minors. The second period started with Hershey on a power play, and for the first 12 minutes the teams traded power plays as each got whistled for infractions that other officials may have let go. It was Hershey who cashed in its power plays first...
What a shot by the AHL MVP off a Chandler Stephenson face-off win to make it 2-0 Bears.
This goal seemed to really rattle the Penguins, as they came out of the ensuing face-off unusually out of sorts. Just 1:34 after Bourque's goal, Carter Camper and Jakub Vrana combined for a goal so easy that no goalie on the planet could have stopped it...and a goal that the WBS defense, frankly, had no business allowing.
The second period ended 3-0 to the Bears, with the two-period shot total also favoring the Bears 18-16.
It was imperative for the Penguins to come out of the locker room for the third period and take control early, with three goals to make up. Instead, the exact opposite happened, as Chris Bourque connected for his second goal of the game, third of the playoffs, and the 100th playoff point in his AHL career (only the 7th player in league history to reach that mark) just 32 seconds into the period for 4-0. Chandler Stephenson and Christian Djoos provided the assists.
To WBS's credit, they did not back down, as just 30 seconds after Bourque's second goal...
That's the proud papa Niclas Andersen finally breaking Justin Peters for the first time in just over five periods of hockey to bring WBS back to 4-1, but just 1:40 later, it was Liam O'Brien scoring his first goal of the playoffs over a downed DeSmith to turn the score to 5-1.
That would be all for the rookie goaltender, as coach Clark Donatelli replaced DeSmith with Tristan Jarry. DeSmith ended with 17 saves on 22 shots.
From there, very little pretense of hockey remained, as the two sides seemed more interested in fighting each other than playing. Jake Guentzel managed to convert a 5 on 3 PP into a goal at 8:52 of the third...
...but for the majority of the game, WBS didn't get many looks that good. Hershey's commitment to defense was absolute, allowing only 24 shots to WBS in the game, and their 5 goals were more than enough to send their supporters back to Hershey happy.
Final score: Hershey 5, WBS 2, Hershey's first win at the Mohegan Sun Arena in their last 10 tries dating back to 2007.
Jake Guentzel received third star honors for his goal and the secondary assist on Andersen's goal. Chandler Stephenson for Hershey ended with three assists, good for second star honors, and Chris Bourque's two goals were good enough for top honors on the evening.
The teams return to the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza ice on Monday night for Game 4, in what will likely be a pivotal game in the season of the WBS Penguins. Questions to consider:
- Will the Penguins stick with DeSmith and hope he can recapture his first-round magic, or will they switch to the more highly-acclaimed rookie Jarry, who stopped 5 shots in nearly 15 minutes of work in Game 3?
- Will either Simon or Parent return to full health to rejoin the lineup?
- Will any of this matter if Peters continues his exemplary form, sporting a 1.17 GAA and 95.5% save percentage in his seven playoff games (both second best in the AHL playoffs behind Toronto's Garrett Sparks)?