PROVIDENCE, RI- Missing their top goalie, Pheonix Copley, the Bears needed their best road game. They got that and much more with help from Vitek Vanecek and capped off by Madison Bowey in overtime to push Providence to the brink of elimination down 3-2.
The Bears looked good from the opening puck drop getting pressure on the Bruins. Travis Boyd had a chance from the slot denied. Vanecek making his first start of the playoffs also got in on the action early. His first save of the game was a big one as he stood tall on a Colby Cave breakaway 3:45 into the game.
The Bears opened the scoring thanks to some hard forechecking and nifty deflection. Chris Bourque and Garrett Mitchell battled in the corner with Alex Grant for a loose puck. Mitchell came away with it and fed Aaron Ness on the point. Ness went cross ice to his partner Tyler Lewington who snapped a shot toward the goal. Chris Bourque was in perfect position and tipped the shot into the net past Zane McIntyre for the 1-0 Hershey lead at 11:12.
The Bruins came out in the second period with a serious push. It was only a matter of time when they found the equalizer. Tommy Cross off a give-and-go with Noel Acciari, cut to the top of the right circle and backhanded a shot past an unsuspecting Vanecek four minutes into the second period.
The Bears wouldn’t take long to respond though. Just under five minutes later Paul Carey finished off a well-executed dump and chase play with a wrist shot from the high slot. It was the second time the Bears were able to score after gaining control after a dump in.
Vitek Vanecek was spectacular to close out the period and made some dynamic saves to keep the Bears ahead 2-1 after two periods.
The pace of the game picked up dramatically in the third period. Providence found the tying goal after Hershey iced the puck. On the ensuing faceoff, the initial shot from the point was blocked to the corner but retrieved by Acciari. He quickly turned and threw the puck to the net where it bounced off Jake DeBrusk then off Vanecek’s pad right to Austin Czarnik. Czarnik was all alone and Vanecek had no time to react as he put it in the goal to even the game at two.
The goal sent a jolt into both teams as the game turned into a race. A physical back and forth affair with odd man rushed and big saves carried the game into overtime. Providence looked to have the better of the play late in the third but Vanecek’s heroics held them off the board.
Hershey came out playing like they wanted to win the game quickly and maintained the majority of the puck possession in overtime. It didn’t take long for that style of play to pay off. Stanislav Galiev and Travis Boyd were locked in a board battle in the corner of their offensive zone and worked the puck free out to Chris Bourque on the point. Bourque drew a defender towards him and passed to the far point to an open Madison Bowey. With all the Bruins caught on the opposite side of the ice, Bowey had plenty of time to step in and fire the game-winning shot home for the 3-2 win. Overtime lasted all of 1:58 for the Bears to emerge with a 3-2 series lead.
With the assist on the game-winner, Chris Bourque set a new AHL record for career playoff assists with 81. He has eight points in ten playoff games for the Bears so far.
Vanecek stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced to pick up his first career playoff win in the AHL. Defenseman Madison Bowey praised his netminder’s effort after stepping in for Copley.
“We saw (Vanecek) all season how good he did (for us). Obviously, Pheonix (Copley) is an unreal goalie but I know Vitek is just as good. He’s a gamer and he really wants to win it and prove himself,” said Bowey. “He had some huge saves that kept us in the game and gets a lot of credit for that ‘W’ tonight. We definitely trust him and confidence in him.”
The series returns to Hershey for game 6 and 7 if necessary. Game 6 will be on Tuesday night at 7:00 pm at Giant Center. The Bears will look to close it out holding the 3-2 series lead.