The Bear Cave

June 8, 2009 7:34 AM

Hershey Stands One Win from Calder Cup Championship

After approximately nine months of grueling hockey from preseason to postseason, two teams are now within reach of taking home the grand prizes from their respective leagues. In the NHL, that team is the Detroit Red Wings, as they currently have a 3-2 lead on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Down on the farm in the AHL, the Hershey Bears are one win away from capturing the Calder Cup, as they lead the Manitoba Moose 3-1.

The 2009 Calder Cup Final between the Hershey Bears and Manitoba Moose kicked off with two competitive contests in Western Canada. The series began on May 30th, with the Moose building a 3-1 lead thanks to two goals and one assist from Michael Grabner. The Bears weren't about to lie down in the series opener, fighting back with two goals from Oskar Osala and one from Alexandre Giroux to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead with 4:36 remaining in regulation. Manitoba had an answer, evening the score on a Maxime Fortunus power play goal with 1:16 left on the clock, sending the tilt into overtime. At 13:33 of the extra session, Giroux netted his second goal of the game and 12th of the playoffs to give Hershey a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

In case the first game wasn't exciting enough, the Moose and Bears put together another evenly played classic in game two. Alexandre Giroux found center stage in the first period, scoring from Graham Mink to give Hershey the early lead. Manitoba responded a little less than eight minutes into the middle frame, when Jason Jaffray began his memorable night with a power play goal from Michael Grabner and Nolan Baumgartner. The game stayed tied until the final minute of regulation. That's when Jaffray picked up his second of the night, beating Michal Neuvirth with a slap shot from the left circle. With ten seconds to go, Jaffray completed his hat trick into an empty net, leading the Moose to a 3-1 win and a tied series heading to Pennsylvania.

The two clubs had three full days off between games two and three, as they flew from Winnipeg to Hershey. With the home ice in the Bears' favor, they took advantage in game three. Shaun Heshka's minor penalty for slashing gave Hershey a power play that needed only eight seconds to get on the board. Graham Mink picked up the tally, deflecting a Staffan Kronwall shot past Cory Schneider. Midway through the second period, Hershey got a second man advantage, and the end result was the same. This time, it was Keith Aucoin dishing a cross-ice pass over to Alexandre Giroux, who hammered a one-timer home. Quintin Laing completed the scoring with an empty net marker, and Michal Neuvirth finished his fourth shutout of the postseason with a 28-save performance.

That all set the stage for game four on Sunday at the Giant Center in Southeast Pennsylvania. The fourth game of the series began with the hometown Bears controlling the majority of the play. Hershey outshot Manitoba 13-6 during the opening 20 minutes, but it was the Moose who took a 1-0 lead into the intermission. Jason Jaffray set up Ray Sawada for a one-timer, and the Dallas prospect rifled the first goal of the contest past Michal Neuvirth. In the second period, the Bears knotted the score. Andrew Gordon spotted Kyle Wilson, who proceeded to roof a wrist shot over Cory Schneider's glove for the equalizer. In the early stages of the third, Manitoba began to run into penalty trouble. Nolan Baumgartner's hooking penalty and a bench minor for too many men on the ice were called 55 seconds apart, giving Hershey a 5-on-3. Alexandre Giroux's shot missed wide, but Keith Aucoin quickly buried the rebound for a successful power play and a 2-1 lead for the Bears. Once again, Neuvirth made the lead stand up, as he and the Hershey defense held the Moose at bay for the final 12:43 of regulation.

With a 3-1 lead in the series, the fans from Chocolatetown will have one last chance to see their team on home ice, and it could be a special one. Game five takes place on Tuesday, and a win would give the Hershey Bears their tenth Calder Cup in franchise history. If the Manitoba Moose are able to steal a game on the road, they will host games six and possibly seven back in Winnipeg over the weekend.

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