HERSHEY -- Hershey Bears and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins will square off Tuesday at Giant Center. The winner heads to the Eastern Conference finals. The loser goes home for the summer.
The Bears, who won the first two games of the best-of-seven East Division final series before losing three straight to the Penguins, forced the deciding game Sunday night when they shut out the Penguins, 3-0, at Giant Center. The win tied the series at three games apiece and left everything riding on Tuesday's game.
"We knew we were facing elimination time, so everybody just had to come out with the aspect that it was do or die," said Hershey's Darren Reid, who scored 22 seconds into the second period to put the Bears in control of the game. "That's what everybody did, and it was a good team game."
Down three games to two heading into the game, the Bears played with a kind of determination that paid off midway through the first period when Andrew Gordon picked up a loose puck just outside the crease, walked across the slot, then snapped it over the glove of goalie Adam Berkhoel. The Penguins never recovered.
"I don't think we played with 100 percent desperation, like we weren't ever going to see each other again," said Gordon. "We played simple, and after we scored that first goal, they let up a little bit, and we sort of took over from there."
Hershey coach Bob Woods agreed.
"You could see it was tense until we got that first one," he said.
The Penguins couldn't argue.
"Their backs were against the wall," said Berkhoel. "They had to win tonight and on Tuesday to win the series, whereas all we had to do was win tonight. I think they had a little more of an edge on us tonight, they were playing with a little more grit, getting loose pucks, forcing us to turn it over, but we had opportunities. We just didn't capitalize. Their goalie played great, kept 'em in it."
"We got down a couple goals and just couldn't manage to make the plays we needed to make," added Chris Minard. "Our execution wasn't as good, and maybe we didn't have the jump we needed to close a team out."
The Bears, particularly goalie Michal Neuvirth, made sure the Penguins didn't capitalize. In posting his second shutout of the playoffs, Neuvirth turned away all 30 shots he faced, including three crucial saves in the second period that prevented the Penguins from gaining any momentum.
The first of those came at 9:29, when he slid across the crease to kick out a point-blank shot by Bill Thomas. About two minutes later, he denied Nick Johnson with a pad save on a power-play blast from the left circle. And, with 19.5 seconds remaining in the period, he gloved a quick snap shot by Luca Caputi coming in alone from the point.
While Gordon's goal gave the Bears the lead, it was Reid's goal that put the Bears in command. Taking a feed from Patrick McNeill just outside the Penguin blue line, Reid muscled his way around Deryk Engelland, cut in toward the net, then lifted the puck over Berkhoel.
Just shy of three minutes later, Alexandre Giroux scored a power-play goal on a wrap-around to settle the issue.
Notes: Sunday night's game drew 5,991 fans. ... The Bears outshot the Penguins 43-30. ... Hershey was 1-for-7 on the power play, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 0-for-4. ... There were no penalties in the first period. ... McNeill's assist on Reid's goal made him the 22nd player to score a point for the Bears in the playoffs, with Kip Brennan, a healthy scratch, the only Hershey player to have played without picking up a point. ... Tuesday's game will be the first Game 7 the Bears have faced since they beat the Portland Pirates in overtime in Game 7 of the 2006 Eastern Conference finals. ... The shutout marked the first time this season the Penguins have been shut out.