Pens "Bear" Down, Claim Classic

Monday, January 21, 2013

Trailing 1-0 after two periods, the Penguins found themselves in a tight game on a big stage, and against their biggest rival.  Playing in front of a record crowd 17,311 fans, Riley Holzapfel and Paul Thompson grabbed the spotlight in the AHL's Outdoor Classic.

First, a Holzapfel blast off an odd man rush tied the game with 12:13 to play. Paul Thompson and Zach Sill added assists. The Penguins had a chance in the waning moments of regulation, but Brian Gibbons was robbed by Bears goalie Dany Sabourin.

Overtime in the AHL's Outdoor game? Couldn't have been scripted any better if you were a Penguins fan tonight.

Jayson Megna and Joey Mormina sprung Paul Thompson on a mini-breakaway 1:19 into the extra session and Thompson beat Sabourin to the glove side. Sabourin got a piece but not enough and the team came out to swarm the goal scorer. More on the "celebration" later but back to Thompson.

The goal was Thompson's team leading 13th goal of the season. He's scored a goal in each of the last three games. Holzapfel netted his 11th of the year tonight and has four points (2G, 2A) in his last two games.

With Phil Dupuis and Warren Peters out with injuries and Eric Tangradi graduated to Pittsburgh, Thompson and Holzapfel are clearly benefiting being put in a top-six role anchored by Trevor Smith. A lot of names thrown at you at once but the thing to take away is the team's ability to find ways to win these close games that they were losing weeks ago.

Now onto the post game reactions. Penguins beat writer Jonathan Bombulie reported that Bears head coach Mark French had words with Penguins head coach John Hynes about the Penguins' celebration of the game winning goal.

I'm not sure what French saw, but from my view (look at the game photo above) the Penguins celebrated in the corner the goal was scored before both teams gave the fans a stick salute. Maybe French was upset that the Penguins saluted the crowd on the road in Hershey. I would imagine the Penguins were saluting the corner of HersheyPark Stadium where the majority of the Pens fans in attendance were sitting. Add another log to the fire of this rivalry.

Post-lockout, guys are being placed into more prominent roles and it's good to see Thompson and Holzapfel stepping up in not only a big game against their intrastate rival but an important game in the standings.

The win gives the Penguins their fourth in a row. One game into the second half of the season and the Penguins sit just one point of out a playoff spot with 41 points, two back of Hershey for 6th in the Eastern Conference and three back of 5th place Manchester.

In the East Division, Binghamton Senators (54 points) and Syracuse Crunch (53 points) have built a cushion, but the second half of the season is going to test every team's depth. Now that the NHL has resumed and teams have played a few regular season games I'll clear up which teams lost who and let you, the reader, decide which team lost the most and which team has the advantage down the stretch.


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