HERSHEY, Pa. – A perfect performance from Hershey goaltender Michal Neuvirth on Saturday has given the Bears a chance to win the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup on home ice.
Neuvirth made 28 saves to shut out the Manitoba Moose 3-0 and give the Bears a 2-1 series lead in the best-of-seven series. Graham Mink, Alexandre Giroux and Quintin Laing scored for the Bears, who will host the Moose in Game 4 Sunday and Game 5 on Tuesday.
Happy with his club’s five-on-five play, Manitoba head coach Scott Arniel chalked up the loss to Hershey’s fourth-ranked power play. The Bears struck twice on their only two power-play opportunities of the game to build a 2-0 lead by the game’s midpoint.
“I thought we created chances. (But) if they’re going to score on their power plays, we’ve got to make sure that when we get the opportunity, we take advantage of it and take that crowd out of it,” said Arniel.
“These teams are so evenly matched, it’s so tight, that it’s what it is now. It’s a break one way or another, a mistake one way or another, a power play one way or another that changes the game and that momentum.”
With Manitoba’s Shaun Heshka off for slashing early in the opening period, Mink’s deflection snuck a left-side shot past Moose goaltender Cory Schneider at 6:22 for a 1-0 lead.
Midway through the second period, Alexandre Giroux fluttered a right-side shot past Schneider to make it 2-0. The AHL’s most valuable player this season, Giroux has scored 74 goals between the regular season and playoffs and scored five times over the first three games of the final.
The Moose outshot the Bears by a 28-21 margin. Schneider made his 19th-consecutive playoff start and finished with 21 saves.
The Schneider-Neuvirth goaltending battle left both head coaches talking.
“When you get to this point of the year,” said Hershey head coach Bob Woods, “you depend a lot on your goaltending. I thought that both teams have gotten it, and (Neuvirth) was exceptional tonight.
“If you shut out a team like Manitoba, you’re doing a lot of good things.”
Arniel added: “(Neuvirth) was good. He was excellent. But (Schneider), I thought, was just as sharp. The one thing about this series in the first three games is that the goaltenders have been outstanding.”
With the Moose pressing late in the third period and Bryan Helmer in the penalty box for a delay-of-game call, the veteran’s third minor of the game, Hershey forward Quintin Laing scored a short-handed goal from deep inside the Hershey zone into an empty net at 19:16 to put the game away.
Manitoba’s first line featuring Jason Krog, Jason Jaffray and Michael Grabner generated only five shots. Krog, who won a Calder Cup last season with Chicago, and Grabner saw multi-game point streaks ended.
The game drew a crowd of 10,696 at Giant Center, where the Bears are now 8-1 in the playoffs.
Notes: Manitoba centre Alexandre Bolduc did not dress for the game, despite pre-game speculation that he would make his first appearance since the Manitoba-Houston Western Conference final. Bolduc has been out the past three weeks. . . . Hershey defenceman Karl Alzner made his first appearance of the series. NHL Hall of Fame defenceman Ray Bourque, father to the Bears’ Chris Bourque, took in Hershey’s morning skate. Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau, who coached the Bears to Calder Cup finals in 2006 and 2007, also attended the game.