By Eric Lord
Game four of the Atlantic Division Finals was not a particularly good one for the Hershey Bears. They lost 2-1 to the Providence Bruins to even the Calder Cup playoff series at two games apiece. The team only mustered 11 shots on a goal and lost starting goalie Pheonix Copley to a lower-body injury. So, what did the Bears do on their off day? They headed to the home of hall-of-fame defenseman Raymond Bourque (father of Chris and Ryan) for a little Mother’s Day barbeque. Well, the barbeque worked. Chris Bourque had a goal and an assist, Vitek Vanecek played strong in goal and Madison Bowey scored 1:58 into overtime to give Hershey 3-2 victory. Now, the Bears are one win away from their second consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference finals.
Vanecek was called on early to make a big stop. The rookie goaltender did just that. Providence forward Colby Cave came in on a breakaway. Vanecek got his blocker on Cave’s shot to keep the game scoreless.
After killing off a penalty, Hershey struck first. Defenseman Tyler Lewington wristed a shot towards the Providence net. Bourque deflected the shot on its way. The tip went over Bruins’ goalie Zane McIntyre’s blocker and the Bears had a 1-0 lead. Bourque’s goal was the first goal that McIntyre has allowed in the first period in these playoffs.
Hershey led 1-0 after one period, but Providence equalized early in the second period. Tommy Cross backhanded a floater from the inside edge of the right circle. With traffic in front, the shot beat Vanecek over his blocker to tie the game at one at the 3:59 mark of the middle frame.
The Bruins nearly went ahead on a Hershey power play shortly after tying the game. Jake DeBrusk, who scored a shorthanded goal in game one, had a point-blank chance. Vanecek stood tall and made the save to keep the game tied.
The Bears did not score on the power play, but would jump back ahead one minute and 44 seconds after the power play expired. Stanislav Galiev slid a pass back to Paul Carey, who fired a hard wrist shot from the inside top of the right circle that beat McIntyre. Carey’s goal gave Hershey a 2-1 that they would take into the third period.
Providence came out strong in the third period and evened the score at the 9:18 point of the final frame. Noel Acciari slid a pass towards the front of the net. Debrusk tipped Acciari’s pass to a Austin Czarnik, who was wide-open to the left of the goal. Czarnik put home his chance and the game was tied at two.
After tying the game, the Bruins controlled most of the third period and had the Bears on their heels. However, Vanecek and company kept Providence off the board. For the third time in the series, the game went to overtime.
Overtime did not last long. Hubert Labrie dug the puck out of a scrum on the left boards and dropped the puck to Bourque, who covered for Labrie at the point. Bourque sent the puck across to Bowey. The defenseman took two strides in and wristed a shot past McIntyre, who was screened by Travis Boyd. The goal gave the Bears a 3-2 win and a 3-2 series lead.
Bourque made history with his assist on Bowey’s goal. He became the all-time assist leader in Calder Cup Playoff history. The assist was his 81st and it moved him past Darren Haydar.
The heroics of Bowey and the history made by Bourque should not overshadow the play of Vanecek. The rookie was starting his first ever Calder Cup playoffs game and was filling in for the player who has been Hershey’s most valuable player thus far in these playoffs (Copley). Vanecek was unrattled. He stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced and came up with the save when his team needed it.
With Copley’s status unknown for game six, Vanecek may have to step in once again. Judging by game five, the Bears are in good hands.