HERSHEY -- By most standards, Adam Berkhoel had a pretty good season in 2008-09. The goalie was 15-11-2 with a 2.53 goals-against average. He also had four shutouts.
But Berkhoel was the backup for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, spending most of the season watching John Curry, the man who backstopped the Penguins to the Calder Cup finals a year ago, carry the load.
All of a sudden, Berkhoel is back in the spotlight, and he's beginning to give the Hershey Bears some headaches.
Berkhoel replaced Curry at the start of the second period in Game 2 of the East Division final series and didn't allow a goal. He got his first-ever AHL playoff start in Game 3 and gave up just a pair of power-play goals in backstopping the Penguins to a 3-2 overtime victory Wednesday that put the Penguins on the board and narrowed Hershey's lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
The teams square off again tonight in Game 4 of the series at Wilkes-Barre's Wachovia Arena. Game 5 is Saturday, and Game 6, if necessary, in Hershey on Sunday.
But while Berkhoel got the win, he didn't exactly outperform Hershey goalie Michal Neuvirth, who was victimized twice when pucks were deflected past him by his own teammates. Neuvirth faced 43 shots in the game, Berkhoel just 25, and the support Berkhoel was getting in front of him limited Hershey's scoring opportunities.
"Adam's more than capable," said Mark Letestu, who scored the game-winning goal by deflecting the puck in during a scramble in front of the net. "He's a good goalie, but what (coach Todd Reirden) has been preaching the last couple days is to give more. Something like blocking shots is giving a little more to the team. There's a little more emphasis on that."
The defensive effort by the Penguins wasn't unexpected.
"They're a great team defensively," said Hershey's Alexandre Giroux. "They block a lot of shots. In their zone, they collapse, so we've got to get in the traffic to get the shots. They don't give us any free ones. We've got to get our nose dirty and get our shots inside the box."
For their part, the Penguins know they have to work to beat Neuvirth, as well.
"The way he's playing, that's what we've got to expect," said Letestu, "to get traffic, to kind of stay in the blue paint. Those goals, they're ugly, but they all count the same. We'll take as many as we can get that way."