Perhaps the best thing that happened Friday night to the Lake Erie Monsters was not the fact that they scored in the first five minutes of every period. Nor was it the fact that they never trailed in Game 2 of the AHL Calder Cup finals against Hershey.
The best thing about Friday night may have been the two quick goals the Monsters surrendered to the Bears in the third period, which brought Hershey to within one score at 4-3 and sent the Giant Center crowd of 9,947 into a frenzy.
You could argue that Lake Erie needed to be tested with a bit of adversity at that point, and the Monsters responded beautifully, denying the Bears the rest of the way and adding a Daniel Zaar empty-net insurance goal with a minute to play to secure the 5-3 victory.
Not only have the Monsters jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the series, they did it on the road against one of the league's most perennially successful teams. And they did it by fending off a relentless and determined Bears side that spent much of the final two periods buzzing goaltender Anton Forsberg and the Lake Erie net.
Now they've proved they can not only skate with the best the AHL has to offer and win, they can also do it in the toughest situations.
All that's left to do now is win two more games and claim the first Calder Cup in Blue Jackets organizational history.
Which, it should be said, is still going to be much easier said than done. The Bears are an experienced team that simply doesn't quit. You can be sure they'll be flying around the Quicken Loans Arena ice Monday night at 7 p.m. the moment the puck drops for Game 3.
What the Bears can't change (until Monday, anyway) is the fact that Lake Erie is flying as high as any team in professional hockey right now. The Monsters have won seven consecutive playoff games dating back to their series-clincher against Grand Rapids, and 22 of 26 stretching back into the regular season.
And they did it, as we mentioned, by grabbing the momentum with goals early in each period Friday night.
The first of those came off the stick of teenager Zach Werenski, who took a nice power-play feed in front from Ryan Craig and wired one high over Hershey goaltender Justin Peters for a 1-0 Lake Erie lead just 3:05 into the contest. Here's a .GIF version of the goal, thanks once again to Cannon .GIF wizard Ryan Real:
The Monsters took that 1-0 lead into the first intermission before Oliver Bjorkstrand registered the first of his two goals on the night at 4:29 of the second period. Bjorkstrand broke free on a 2-on-1 with Lukas Sedlak and threw what appeared to be a combination pass/shot at the net that may have deflected in off Peters' blocker. Take a look for yourself:
In any event, it was 2-0 and the Monsters were gaining confidence. Hershey's Zach Sill would finally manage to beat Forsberg in a 5-on-3 situation to make it 2-1, but then it was Sedlak restoring Lake Erie's two-goal lead, potting his ninth goal of the playoffs:
(I hope you guys don't mind the .GIFs. Ryan does such a good job and just enjoys putting these together so much that I love using them. If you don't like them, pretend there's nothing but endless gray text here.)
Bjorkstrand got the Monsters' second power-play goal of the game two minutes into the third period off a pretty behind-the-back feed from Michael Chaput. At that point it was 4-1 and everyone at the Hooley House in Mentor, Ohio – where the Monsters were holding their official playoff watch party – was celebrating and starting to make plans for Game 3.
Except Hershey wasn't ready for the game to be over just yet. The Bears' Tyler Lewington and Liam O'Brien both put pucks past Forsberg in one chaotic two-minute stretch, and suddenly it was 4-3 and the Monsters were on their heels.
Or at least they were for a time. Because after the third Hershey goal, Lake Erie tightened up and matched the Bears stride for stride. Then, with Peters pulled and Hershey trying desperately to tie it up, Craig managed to push a puck out of the zone ahead to a streaking Zaar, who deposited it into the empty net and allowed Monsters fans to breathe again.
Hershey played a chippy game throughout, smartly trying to draw their young opponents into ill-advised penalties. Lake Erie retaliated on occasion, but for the most part, Coach Jared Bednar's charges kept their cool and played their game.
As they've been doing now for seven weeks' worth of postseason play.
However the rest of this series goes, Blue Jackets fans have to be excited to see these kids not only scoring big goals and back-checking like champs, but also skating with poise and control that's perhaps beyond their years.
Now let's see if they can keep it up.