Let's get the unpleasant part out of the way - the Royals...
Bears & Stingrays Update: Sabourin Returns (Temporarily), SC Advances
Tonight was something of a rarity for the Hershey Bears – a one-goal game. Unfortunately for the home team, that goal was credited to the Connecticut Whale. Respect where it’s due: a moment of congratulations to the visitors on clinching a playoff berth. With the loss, the Bears’ playoff seed remains in flux. They’re currently 5th in the East, but the Whale is still within striking distance. Since it was also the last home game of the regular season, it was also the night of player awards. However, we’ll leave that list of congratulations for a less-conflicted evening.
Flashing Glove of Brilliance: Goaltender Dany Sabourin was back from his one-night-stand with the Washington Capitals, recording a .961 save percentage as he stopped 25 shots, but the combined toll of injury and call-up continued to leave the Bears struggling. They’ve got the warm bodies to fill their lines, and veterans and rookies are both stepping up, but nobody’s quite meshing the way they need to yet.
In addition, two familiar faces were absent from tonight’s game. Defenseman Kevin Marshall was a healthy scratch, the result of actions on the bench in the second period of Saturday night’s shootout loss to Syracuse (details are hazy). Captain Boyd Kane, on the other hand, was out with what was termed a “lower body injury” following a bad hit in the same game. To add to the merriment, Mike Carman was excused from tonight’s game early (13:03 of the third), after spearing Tim Erixon and earning a major + game misconduct penalty in retaliation for a prior sequence of events.
Head Coach Mark French remains adamant about the fact that depth and team composition is not an excuse for poor results – the guys who wear the jerseys are the Hershey Bears, regardless of the name on the back – but at the moment the team is paying it forward in a big way. They’re laying the groundwork for a fantastic crop of potential players next fall, giving rookies just out of college a taste of the pace and flow of the AHL game, but they’re taking a beating in the process. This weekend’s 0-2-0-1 record reflects that all too well.
A Word of Caution on the Goalie Front: Don’t get your hopes up just yet. Washington plays their first playoff game against the Bruins on Thursday, and there is no solid news yet about the state of Michal Neuvirth‘s lower body. If he’s still out, Sabourin will be back with the big club in a flash. Daren Machesney will then be promoted (again) from back-up to starter, with Saturday morning’s acquisition – Scott Greenham – stepping into the void.
Related Stingray News: If this reads a bit like the plot of a soap opera, you’re not far off. Down in Georgia with the South Carolina Stingrays (who were visiting the Gwinnett Gladiators for Game 4 of the first round of their playoffs this afternoon), Friday-signing Rob Madore played his second multiple-overtime game of the weekend, holding out for 96:52 (16:52 of the second OT) before his teammate Maxime Lacroix potted the game-winning goal. Lacroix was the first star of the night, with a point on all 4 Stingrays goals in the eventual 4-3 victory.
To return to the goalie for a moment, tonight’s game puts Madore’s playing time at 221:11 (3:41:11, or 12 periods) in two games. He stopped a combined 93-of-99 shots, giving him a .939 save percentage. What that means in layman’s terms is that he’s done VERY well for a sacrificial lamb.
The South Carolina Stingrays advance to the ECHL’s Kelly Cup Eastern Conference Semifinals, having won their first series 3-1. Their opponent in the second round will be the Kalamazoo Wings.
As usual, a gallery of photos from tonight’s games will be going up on the author’s flickr over the next 36 hours.