Hershey Bears win second straight Calder Cup

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 15, 2010

HERSHEY, PA. -- If Monday's game was indeed the last in the minor leagues for John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Michal Neuvirth, the trio of touted Washington Capitals prospects couldn't have scripted a better ending.

Carlson and Alzner each scored first-period goals, and Neuvirth stopped all 22 shots he faced to make sure the Hershey Bears claimed a second straight Calder Cup with a 4-0 win over the Texas Stars in Game 6 of the series.

"It never gets old," Carlson said in the midst of a wild on-ice celebration at Giant Center. "I've won a few championships now, and every time it's a thrill."

The championship is the Bears' third in five years, 11th overall and it underscored a regular season that saw them win a league-record 60 games. They're the first team to win back-to-back titles since Springfield in 1990 and 1991 and first in league history to rebound after dropping Games 1 and 2 on home ice.

Capitals General Manager George McPhee, who watched intently from a suite, hopes the comeback will serve as a springboard for the organization's prized youngsters.

"It never hurts and it almost always helps to play in pressure situations," McPhee said. The AHL "is the second-best league in the world, and what you like is this builds a foundation, a frame of reference so when things aren't going well in Washington, they'll have something to fall back on"

Chris Bourque captured the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the playoff MVP, capping a weird year in which the 2004 second-round draft pick earned a spot on the opening night roster, got waived because of salary cap issues, played 20 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins and then rejoined the Capitals organization.

"When everything settles down," said Bourque, who didn't record a point Monday but finished with 27 points in the playoffs, "I don't know what I'm going to think about this year. This is a good place to be stuck if you're stuck in the AHL."

For Carlson, the victory capped a breakthrough season that included scoring the gold medal-winning goal for the United States in the world junior championships, tallying his first NHL goal and a suiting up for 29 games with Washington.

Now, the 2008 first rounder can add the Calder Cup-clinching goal to an already impressive r?sum?.

"There were a couple of games where he wasn't sharp, but these last few games, he's done some things that come naturally to him that you can't teach and they were big time plays," McPhee said of Carlson, who acknowledged that playing a total of 95 games contributed to his slow start in this series.

Alzner, who was recalled eight times by the Capitals last season and skated in Game 7 against the Montreal Canadiens, played an instrumental role in shutting down Stars prospect Jamie Benn (two assists).

"If this is my last game in the American league, there's no better way," Alzner said. "I don't think it can get any better than that. I was here maybe a year too long, but I think it's going to be good for my development in the end and I'm a hundred times better than I would have been."

Like Alzner, it seems Neuvirth has nothing left to prove at the minor league level. The only question is whether he joins fellow 22-year-old Semyon Varlamov in Washington next winter.

"That decision hasn't been made yet," McPhee said. "That's part of the debate."

When told this would probably be the last time he would don a Bears jersey either way, Neuvirth choked up.

"If that's true, it's pretty nice to get a title shutout in my last game as a Hershey Bear," said Neuvirth, who went 14-4 in claiming his second cup.

Capitals note: Capitals center Brendan Morrison will not be re-signed, McPhee said before the game.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company