HERSHEY – Just when it appeared as if the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins were ready to get back on track, a seemingly harmless shot from the point sealed their fate.
With three minutes remaining in the second period, the Penguins scored their second goal – a Nick Johnson tip-in, to wipe out a two-goal lead that the Hershey Bears built in the first period. It looked as if the Penguins would close out the period tied 2-2 until Bears defenseman Bryan Helmer lofted a shot from the point with 16.3 seconds left. The shot deflected off several bodies and sticks in front and past goalie John Curry for a 3-2 lead.
The goal took away the Penguins momentum to end the second period and allowed Hershey to go on to a 5-3 win in Game 1 of the AHL East Division Finals on Saturday.
The goal, which was scored on the power play, was originally credited to Helmer. Immediately after it was scored, Penguins head coach Todd Reirden was visibly upset behind the bench.
“I was concerned. I asked if (Bears winger Andrew) Gordon scored the goal and if he did I wanted them (officials) to check if it was a high stick,” Reirden said. “If Gordon scored the goal, then it went off his shaft. He (referee Ghislain Hebert) didn’t even ask his linesmen, which bothered me.”
The goal was eventually credited to Gordon, but Reirden’s argument was a moot point as the two teams left for the locker room – the Bears with their second lead of the night and the Penguins faced with another daunting comeback.
“We fell behind early and ended up playing catch-up almost the entire game,” said Dustin Jeffrey. “It’s not something you want to make a habit of.”
The Penguins tried to break the habit in the third period after a Hershey goal in the first two minutes put them down 4-2.
With Hershey forward Mathieu Perreault in the box for hooking, Johnson scored his second power play goal of the night when he swept a Jeffrey shot from the boards into the net.
Johnson’s goal cut Hershey’s lead to 4-3 with 12 minutes to play and the Penguins were primed for another comeback.
But when Alex Goligoski turned the puck over in his own end while trying to generate a rush up ice, the puck ended up in the worst possible place – on the stick of 60-goal scorer Alexandre Giroux.
Giroux quickly dispatched the puck into the net and the Penguins, despite outshooting Hershey 14-4 in the third period, couldn’t muster another comeback. While the turnover was a result of Goligoski trying to put the offense on his shoulders, Reirden refused to put the blame there as well.
“When things start to struggle, he knows he can make a difference and sometimes he attempts to,” Reirden said. “Sometimes you are prone to mistakes with that, but I couldn’t be happier with his effort and desire.”
Still, Goligoski had no problem accepting responsibility.
“You can’t turn pucks over like that,” he said, admitting that he was pressing late in the game to try to rally his team.
“You have to be smart about it and I wasn’t really tonight. Turn a few pucks over and you can’t do that. I guarantee I’ll be better (tonight).”
NOTES: Curry stopped Bears winger Oskar Osala with a leg save on a penalty shot in the first period. … The Penguins third defensive pairing of Jon D’Aversa and Reid Cashman registered a minus-3 and a minus-2, respectively, on the night. Cashman did have an assist on Johnson’s second power play goal. .. Johnson’s pair of power play goals were his first playoff goals of his AHL career.
CALDER CUP PLAYOFFS
East Division Final, Game 2
Penguins vs. Bears
5 p.m. today
Giant Center, Hershey
Radio: WDMT 102.3 FM