05/04/2009 - As seen in the game program
Dan Sernoffsky, BEARS Staff Writer
Hershey's Alexandre Giroux became the first American Hockey League player in more than a decade to score 60 goals in a single season. What sometimes gets forgotten is the fact that in December, Giroux, while leading the league in goals, was called up by the Washington Capitals.
While Giroux was in Washington, another player moved past him into the league goal-scoring lead. The player was Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's Chris Minard. But what could have turned into something of a major shootout between two of the league's top snipers quickly fizzled. About the time Giroux was coming back to Hershey, Minard was getting called up by Pittsburgh. Giroux continued his pursuit of his first 50 goals, then 60. By the time he finally returned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Minard didn't have enough time to get back in the chase.
Still, Minard managed to score 34 goals during the regular season, which put him in the top five among AHL goal-scorers at the end of the season.
The spotlight will again be on Giroux and Minard as the BEARS and the Penguins square off in the East Division playoff finals, the Calder Cup quarterfinals.
The BEARS and the Penguins were the AHL's top scoring teams during the regular season. Hershey led the league with 296 goals, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton finished second with 274, and Giroux and Minard obviously played a major role in that production. Especially on special teams. Giroux scored 22 power-play goals, Minard 21. They ranked 1-2 in the league.
Not surprisingly, special teams continue to be front-and-center when the teams continue their playoff series. The BEARS swept the Philadelphia Phantoms in the opening round, in the process posting a perfect 22-for-22 on the penalty kill, the best record in the league. The Penguins, meanwhile, beat Bridgeport in five games in the opening round, thanks in no small part to a power-play that has emerged as the best in the league. The Penguins went 9-for-21 on the man-advantage, an incredible 42.9 percent rate of efficiency.
The BEARS, however, weren't all that bad on the power-play. They went 7-for-27, a 25.9 percent success rate, and rank third in the league. The Penguins penalty kill, however, is sixth in the league. The Penguins allowed three goals in 24 kills.
Chris Bourque led the BEARS in scoring in the season series with the Penguins, scoring five goals and assisting on 10 while playing in all 10 games. Giroux, who also played in all 10 games, had eight goals and four assists. Janne Pesonen had three goals and nine assists against the BEARS to lead the Penguins in scoring. Minard, who played in seven games in the series, had four goals and six assists.
In the first round of the playoffs, the BEARS outscored the Phantoms 14-6 thanks to a balanced effort. Giroux led the team in scoring with two goals and four assists while Bourque had five assists, all but two of the players who played in every game in the series had at least one point. In addition to Giroux, Mathieu Perreault and Staffan Kronwall each had two goals.
For the Penguins, who outscored Bridgeport 18-14, the big guns were Minard, J.M. Daoust and Jeff Taffe, all of whom had seven points, Minard on five goals and two assists, Daoust and Taffe with three goals and four assists each. In addition, Dustin Jeffrey had four goals.
In goal, the teams are virtually even. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's John Curry was one of the best in the league during the regular season and posted a 5-1-1 record with a 2.46 goals-against average against the BEARS. In the playoffs, he was 4-1 with a 2.67 gaa. Hershey's Michal Neuvirth was 1-0-2 against the Penguins, but posted a goal-against average identical to Curry's in the season series, a 2.46. In the playoffs, Neuvirth has been even better. In posting his 4-0 record, he also put up a 1.50 goals-against average.