HERSHEY, Pa. | With an eye to the future and Capitals general manager George McPhee in attendance, three of the Washington's top prospects helped the Hershey Bears win their American Hockey League-record 11th Calder Cup title, closing out the series with a 4-0 win over the Texas Stars Monday night at Giant Center.
John Carlson and Karl Alzner, who played in Washington's 2-1 loss to Montreal in Game 7 in April and will figure prominently in the Capitals' plans next season, each scored a goal in the first period to power the Bears to the Cup-clinching victory.
Goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who will likely challenge for the Capitals' backup goaltending role in September, capped off his second straight solid Calder Cup playoff. His 22-save shutout helped Hershey become the first AHL team since the Springfield Indians of 1989-91 to repeat as champs by taking the best-of-seven series 4-2.
Unlike their parent club, who lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs to the Canadiens, the Bears were able to parlay the top seed in the playoffs into a Calder Cup championship, dispatching Bridgeport, Albany and Manchester to in the first three rounds to win the Eastern title.
After falling behind 2-0 in their first two games of the finals at home, the Bears roared back to win four straight -- including three straight at Texas -- to capture the team's third title since 2006.
Chris Bourque was named the MVP of the playoffs, as he finished up tied with Alexandre Giroux atop the AHL playoff scoring race with 27 points.
"I'm happy about the MVP, but the big trophy is winning the Calder Cup," Bourque said on the ice afterwards with his father, Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bouque, looking on. "It's unbelievable, you don't see it too often three times in five years and back to back. I'll give the credit to all these guys, it was a thrill. It's a fun ride."
Riding the momentum from a 2-1 overtime win in Game 5, the Bears came flying out of the gate, outshooting the Stars 10-3 in the first 11 minutes of the game. Texas goalie Brent Krahn kept the game scoreless with some good saves while withstanding heavy pressure from the Bears.
But Carlson finally was able to cash in and break the tie, popping in a rebound of a Giroux shot past Krahn for a 1-0 Hershey lead, and sending the sellout crowd of 11,002 into a frenzy with 7:31 left in the first period.
"It was huge," Carlson said. "We had won three straight so we wanted to keep that momentum going in our favor. I think that was a huge goal, not just because I scored it."
Less than two minutes later, Alzner doubled the lead by blasting a puck past Krahn for a 2-0 Bears edge with 5:37 left to play. The tally put Hershey squarely in charge of the contest and left the Stars reeling.
"It was nice," Alzner said of getting the two-goal lead. "It would have made the game more exciting if it was a close one, at the same time, you get more breathing room and you play more confident, too. You're not afraid to make those extra pinches, and you notice teams will sit back, and that's when teams pour it on."
Hershey did that, outshooting Texas 17-4 in the period.
Texas came out stronger in the second, with Neuvirth making a nice save on Greg Rallo with just over eight minutes elapsed in the second. Before the period expired, Hershey upped its lead to three when Patrick McNeill tipped in a Giroux rebound with 5:13 left in the frame.
McNeill added an insurance goal late, scoring on a long shot that Krahn didn't see with 5:03 left in regulation for a 4-0 advantage.
Neuvirth finished strong, making a couple of nice saves in the dying minutes to preserve his first shutout of the postseason, as last year's playoff MVP finished this season's playoffs with a 14-4 record and a 2.07 goals-against average -- including a 1.94 GAA during the finals.
"It's pretty nice to get a shutout if it's my last game as a Hershey Bear," Neuvirth said of possibly being called up to Washington this fall. "It's an unbelievable feeling."
The largest crowd ever to see a game in Hershey got a chance to see something that hadn't happened in 30 years, despite the Bears' recent success. Hershey skated the Cup on home ice for the first time since May 17, 1980, when the Capitals' Claude Noel notched the game-winner at Hersheypark Arena.
"I'm just happy to be on this team," Carlson said afterwards. "Going down 2-0 made it tough, but, we just showed our resiliency, and once we won Game 3 in Texas we just started rolling."
The series finale could very well be the last game in the minors for Alzner, Carlson and perhaps Neuvirth. Thanks to the trio's performance, it certainly proved to be a memorable one.
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