Sunday, June 7, 2009

Aucoin's Goal Puts Bears on Brink of Title

Keith Aucoin's power-play goal with 12:43 left in regulation broke a 1-1 tie and lifted the Bears to just one win short of claiming the franchise's 10th Calder Cup title and second championship in four years as Hershey edged Manitoba 2-1 to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the series in front of a sold-out Giant Center.

With a win Tuesday night, the Bears can skate with the Calder Cup on home ice for the first time in 29 years, as they can prevent the series from shifting back to Winnipeg by closing out the series in Hershey, where they are 9-1 so far this playoff season.

It could have been a very frustrating night of missed opportunities for the Bears, as they outplayed the Moose for good stretches of the game but only had Colin Wilson's second-period tally to show for it.

But a hooking penalty on former Cap defenseman Nolan Baumgartner was compounded by a too-many-men call on the Moose, and the door opened for Aucoin to tap in an Alexandre Giroux miss for the difference in the contest, and sending the crowd of 10,739 into a frenzy as the Bears took command of the series.

Unlike Saturday's Game 3, the Moose were able to finally break through Michal Neuvirth when Raymond Sawada lofted a puck past the Bears' netminder with 8:23 left to play in the opening period, as Manitoba controlled more of the play early on in the Bears' zone.

However, Hershey came out flying in the second period, both by putting the body on the Moose as well as getting a good territorial advantage over Manitoba. However, a couple of extra unnecessary passes in the offensive zone and good saves by Cory Schneider limited the Bears to only a single goal for the middle stanza, and the two teams were deadlocked after 40 minutes of play.

Hershey again got the jump on Manitoba early in the third period, but still couldn't dent Schneider any further to cash in on some good chances. However, when Baumgartner was whistled for a minor, it opened the door for the Bears to put their power play to work.

The Moose then were whistled for a rare too-many-men while shorthanded, and armed with a 5-on-3 for 1:05, the Bears generated some good chances with the two-man advantage, and with just two ticks left on the Baumgartner minor, Aucoin tapped in the puck past an out-of-position Schneider with a scramble in front of the Manitoba cage.

However, once Hershey took the lead, they quickly began to sit back a bit too much and allowed Manitoba to control the play, and it was up to Neuvirth to preserve the one-goal lead, with Manitoba racking up 14 shots in the third period - with most of those coming after Aucoin's tally.

Things got even more precarious for Hershey when with the two teams on a four-on-four late and the extra attacker, Chris Bourque was whistled for a cross-check, giving Manitoba a 6-on-4 to close out the final :29 of regulation. But the Bears held, leading to a raucous celebration behind the Bears' net as time expired, including a jumping Neuvirth.

Now, the Bears will get a chance to close out the Moose at home Tuesday and take the Calder Cup for a skate with a victory, as they will look to finish the series before they have to make a long trip back to Manitoba should they not close it out.

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