There are many ways to interpret last night's opening game of the Calder Cup finals. Texas is considered one of the biggest underdogs in Calder Cup history to win this series. Hershey just came off of one of the most successful seasons ever enjoyed by an AHL franchise. They finished the season with 123 points, most in the league, with a record of 60-17-0-3 compared to Texas' record of 46-27-3-4 for 99 points. Hershey played 40 games at home this season losing only 4 of them. Coming into this series they hadn't yet lost a game on their own ice in the playoffs and had won 37 of 38 games there since a 5-4 shootout loss back on Nov. 28, 2009, and over the course of the season outscored their opponents 194-89.
Now you have an idea of what the Stars were up against going into game 1 of the Calder Cup finals. But they won. David beat Goliath. Yes it's only game one but it's worth evaluating what we can take away from the outcome.
The game started out just as the last 10 had for Texas with them giving up the first goal. Hershey is 43-6-0-3 when they score first. The Bears' RW Francois Bouchard skated uncontested right through the crease and just poked the puck past Matt Climie. The fans seemed to settle in for a game to which they've become quite accustomed. The game was playing out exactly as scripted although the stingy Texas defense held them scoreless in the first period where they've historically outscored their opponents 105-56.
But Texas had been there before on the road against some very tough teams. They bounced back 5 and a half minutes later to tie the game at one. That's how the second frame ended, tied 1-1. Texas was energized and it showed in the 3rd period. With some nifty stick handling Stars' LW Scott McCulloch skated into the zone and right across the front of the goal and popped a backhander past Hershey goalie Michal Neuvirth with only 2 minutes gone in the period.
Now Texas just had to hold off a team that had come from behind in the 3rd period in 9 of their previous playoff games to win. The Bears seemed to be constantly on the attack in the final minutes but Climie was up to the task and the defense never let down as they frustrated the Bears time after time to secure the win.
So how will the series play out? Have the Stars broken the Hershey mystique? Or did the Bears take the Stars for granted and will now step up their intensity in game 2? There were signs that it could go either way. Hershey was fierce with their attack. Their forechecking and puck control was top notch. They seemed to be slightly off with their shots for most of the night missing wide of the net quite often. Had they not been a bit off the mark they may have gotten one or 2 more past Climie. But Climie and the defense were outstanding last night. Much of the bad play by the Bears was a direct result of some impressive defense and stellar goaltending.
If the Stars play like they did in game one throughout the rest of the series, they probably won't sweep the Bears given the incredible talent on that team, but they will not be the underdog many have labeled them. Climie has been on fire and seeing everything since taking over for an injured Brent Krahn and all things being equal, I give the nod to the team with the hot hand in goal. If the Bears come out Saturday night and walk all over the Stars, things could get ugly for the rest of the series. But if the Stars play as well as they did last night, even if they lose, I see them with a great shot at taking home the Cup.