It took 75 games and some help from the Springfield Thunderbirds, but the Hershey Bears can finally say they are playoff bound after taking a 2-1 win over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Friday night. Hershey faces Providence tomorrow with a chance to alter their first round opponent, which currently is the same Penguins team they faced tonight. A win would have them facing Lehigh Valley.
The Bears played a very balanced and defensively sound game in Wilkes-Barre, a place that had been a house of horrors for them earlier this season.
Hershey held the Baby Pens to just one shot in the first period, which tied a season low in shots against for a single frame back in January. Despite this, the Bears were unable to strike in the first period despite owning most of the offense during the first half of the game.
In the second, the Bears would finally get some results for their hard work. Jakub Vrana would bury the first goal of the game three and a half minutes into the second on one of many dominant shifts with Chris Bourque and Travis Boyd.
“I tried to find an open area there to get the puck,” Vrana said. “Bourquey found me there in front of the net. Went through his pads, and that was a good start to the game.”
The game had a playoff feel to it, and that feeling was reflected in the officiating with only three penalties called for the entire contest. However, the only one called against Hershey proved to be pivotal when Hampus Gustafsson had the puck go off his blade out of play from the defensive zone, and Wilkes-Barre scored shortly afterward to tie things up at one goal each.
In a similar fashion to the way Hershey handled their comeback in Toronto, the Chocolate and White were about to work their magic again. The Bears took the puck down after the goal and only needed 27 seconds before Christian Djoos fired a shot after cycling the puck that went through DeSmith, and sucked away the momentum of the tying goal.
“I thought the guys played the right way again tonight in terms of playing the right way,” said Troy Mann. “There’s a lot of tight games now, and there’s not a lot of goal scoring.”
That goal scoring was kept down due to a 22 save effort from Pheonix Copley, who was a key part of the defensive wall that kept Wilkes-Barre’s scoring opportunities to a minimum.
“It’s a gutsy effort by the guys,” said Copley. “They were doing a great job, working hard in the d-zone and making my job easier. Can’t say enough about how hard they’re working. They got rewarded, we got the win, and we’re happy for that.”
“Hopefully we can continue this into playoffs now,” said Tom Gilbert. “This is playoff hockey we’ve been playing. It’s not pretty sometimes, but you got to hunt the puck down, do the simple things, and we did that tonight.”
To clinch a playoff berth, the Bears needed some help out of town and got it in a big way. The Springfield Thunderbirds hosted the Bridgeport Sound Tigers while the Bears were in Wilkes-Barre, and after the Thunderbirds had expressed a vote of confidence to Bears faithful by telling them via Twitter, they were ready to be spoilers. Springfield scored seven times and eliminated the Sound Tigers in a match that included a five-goal second period.
The loss also clinched a spot for the Providence Bruins, who fell in overtime to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms after losing a 4-1 lead in the final ten and a half minutes of the third period. The single point earned by the P-Bruins sets up a big Saturday night contest for Hershey, as the Bears can change who they face in the first round by beating the Providence Bruins. Should Hershey win, they would face the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the first round by finishing third. A loss would have them playing Wilkes-Barre in a rematch of last year’s second round series.
Regardless, the Bears can finally say they are playoff bound after a Friday in Wilkes-Barre.