PROVIDENCE — Two power-play goals by defenseman Jeff Penner and a solid first 20 minutes by the Providence Bruins both went to waste tonight, as the Hershey Bears rallied from 3-0 and 4-2 down to take Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, 6-4, at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
Hershey now leads the series 2-1, with Game 4 scheduled for Sunday back here at “The Dunk.”
“It’s disheartening getting up 3-0 and then 4-2,” said Penner after the loss. “We can’t sit back once we get leads like that. And we just sit back and stop skating and they came at us hard. They’ve got a skilled team and that’s what’s going to happen if we sit back.”
For a blow-by-blow account of the game you can read my live blog. Even though Hershey dictated the play in the middle stanza after falling behind, 3-0, the P-Bruins seemed to have weathered the storm. When Penner scored his second goal of the night 38 seconds into the third period, it looked like they were in the clear. But Andrew Gordon and Alexandre Giroux (two goals) scored 1:20 apart later in the session to tie the game. Graham Mink then potted the game-winner.
While he admitted he and his teammates maybe started to squeeze their sticks too much in the third period, Penner refused to use the experience advantage Hershey holds as an excuse.
“Everybody always says the word experience. But I think we got some pretty good experience throughout the year,” said the blueliner. “We may not have the years of playoff experience, but we’ve been through these types of situations throughout the year and I think we’ll be fine.”
Even after the demoralizing defeat, Providence head coach Rob Murray was certain his team could duplicate some of the positive things it did over the course of the loss and execute them more often in Game 4.
“With every game there’s always good things. We didn’t come out on top, but the effort was there. At times, potentially, misplaced effort. I think we can be cleaner with our plays and stuff like that,” he said. “But I think we take positives from every game. Especially in the playoffs here … you can kind of pick and choose what you watch on video and stuff and show them this is what worked and this is what didn’t work.”
One of those positives was the play of Penner. He staked his club to a 2-0 lead with 4:28 left in the opening period when he cashed in on a backdoor power-play set off a feed by Vladimir Sobotka. The goal was Penner’s fourth of the playoffs. He added his fifth when, with Johnny Boychuk checked tightly by the Bears on a 4-on-3 Providence power play, Penner snapped a wrister high to the stick side past Michal Neuvirth.
“A guy like Johnny, of course they’re going to focus on him. And sometimes you can’t even get a pass over to him because they’re focusing on him so much,” said Penner. “I’m more than happy to take those passes. We’ve got great players out there playing on the power play. And if I’m open, they’re going to find me, especially seeing as how they’re keying on Johnny so much.”
Now it’s time for the P-Bruins to key on keeping their composure and continuing to attack if they have a lead. They better hope they didn’t just let the veteran Bears off the mat for good.