Game 4 Looming
It’s a beautiful day up here in Glens Falls, but the Hershey Bears would much prefer a beautiful night. Game 4 of Hershey’s East Division semifinal series with the Albany River Rats will be played here tonight at 7 p.m., and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of game we get.
The first two games at Giant Center were relatively low-scoring, tight-checking affairs. In Sunday’s Game 3, the Rats ran loose and were all over the Bears in the offensive zone. Thing is, as well as the Rats have played in the first three games, they’re down 2-1 in the series. And we still haven’t seen the “real” Bears yet, the Bears that blasted Norfolk at Giant Center and Wilkes/Barre Scranton at Wachovia Center in the waning weekends of the regular season. That Bears team made a statement in winning the division forcefully and decisively.
My mailbag is showing some panic out there among the masses, and I would respectfully suggest that you all remain calm. I’ve seen some fairly rash suggestions, but like I said in an earlier post, I wouldn’t change much. And I certainly wouldn’t think of benching goaltender Frederic Cassivi as some have suggested to me. Freddie was the difference in Game 3. He has the experience; he’s been through all this before. Albany goaltender Tyler Weiman, not so much. And it showed. Sunday was a great example of how a goaltender can let in five goals and still be one of the most crucial and best players in the game.
What to expect tonight? Good question. One thing we’ve learned from the first three games is that the team that dominates the game in the offensive zone if going to get the better of the power play chances. Hershey had 18 power play opportunities to Albany’s nine in the first two games; the Rats had seven to the Bears’ three in Game 3. Coaches everywhere preach “staying out of the box,” and in this case it may be as simple as spending as much time as possible in the offensive zone.
If Hershey finds itself killing a number of penalties again tonight, then I would hope its defensemen will be a bit more effective at clearing rebounds, keeping the Rats from having time and space in the middle of the ice, and letting Freddie see the puck. If the Bears can forecheck effectively and work the puck down low like they were able to do in the first two games, they should have more offensive success. Weiman was good in the first two games, but the Bears were also snakebit.
Kyle Wilson and Scott Barney rank among the AHL’s top 10 in playoff scoring, and eight different Bears have scored in the series. But it’s also worth noting that Alexandre Giroux, the team’s leading scorer in the regular season, has yet to pick up a point in this series. And although Jakub Klepis has four assists, he could arguably have as many goals. Klepis has been the most snakebit of the snakebit Bears.
This is what playoff hockey is all about. Guys like Wilson and Barney pick up the slack while the big guns are struggling. There were games last year during the playoffs when Hershey’s most dependable snipers had difficulty, but the Bears would win with contributions from guys like Colin Forbes, Jakub Cutta and Boyd Kane. Although Forbes, Cutta and Kane are gone, the Bears still have plenty of players capable of stepping up and making a difference as we’ve seen in the last week.
The Rats are proving to be a very worthy foe, and they are a very scrappy and well-coached club. I’m looking for the Bears to ratchet it up a notch, and I’m hoping tonight’s the night. I don’t think Albany can play much better, but I know the Bears can. Getting the Bears to play better is not a matter of making wholesale changes. A tweak here, a tweak there. Stay the course.