2 teams locked in the tight Atlantic Division of the American Hockey League faced off on Sunday afternoon. The Hershey Bears and Providence Bruins took to the ice in a game that mattered an extreme amount. Coming into the match-up, the Bruins led the Bears by 2 points while also holding a game in hand.
With 3 teams virtually in contention for the last 2 spots in the Atlantic Division (the other being Bridgeport, who came into their game Sunday with a game in-hand on Hershey as well as being tied at 75 points in the standings), this game was to have a playoff feel to it.
As the game got underway, Hershey came out flying, with the top line of Chris Bourque, Aaron Ness, and Chandler Stephenson holding on to the puck. A break for the Bruins the other way trickled just wide of the net. Copley couldn’t be calm for too long, though; at the 1:46 mark of the 1st, Bruins defenseman Alex Grant took advantage of a scramble in front of the net and slotted the puck home to make it 1-0.
Just 3 minutes later, at the 4:25 mark of the 1st, Stanislav Galiev of the Bears tied it up at 1, but he was helped by a major mistake by Bruins goalie Malcom Subban. Subban was handcuffed as the puck came to his blocker side, and although he got a piece of it, it wasn’t enough.
Nearing the halfway point, the Bruins caught a break. While the Bears were pressuring mightily, Garret Mitchell took a holding call, sending the Bruins to the powerplay. They had a lot of chances, including 1 shot that hit the post and slid right through the crease to the other side.
At the 9:33 mark of the 1st, an innocent shot from the point was deflected on goal by Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk to make it 2-1 in favor of the Bruins.
The Bears had the opportunity to tie the game back up just a few minutes later when a tripping minor was called on Danton Heinen. 15 seconds into the powerplay, Travis Boyd, situated on the bottom of the left circle, had a wide-open net but missed the net entirely. A courageous penalty kill by the Bruins kept the Bears at bay, but they were made to do it all again after Jordan Szwarz was called for the trip. The Bruins didn’t survive this one unscathed; Stanislav Galiev had a beautiful tip-in to get his 2nd of the game at the 16:24 mark.
The Bruins, seemingly rattled by the goal, took another penalty as Jason Szwarz went right back to the box. This was a dangerous one; it was an elbow that made contact with the head. A long stretch pass, as the penalty ended, to Anton Bildh of the Bruins almost turned into a beautiful goal. Going across the width of the ice, Bildh found defenseman Matt Grzelcyk going to the net. Copley came over to the other side and saved a point-blank shot with his blocker in the final minute of the 1st. At the end of the period, the Bruins led 15-6 in shots, but the game was tied at 2.
The 2nd period started off with a slower pace than the 1st, with whistles for icing and cover-ups frequent. A collision between Garrett Mitchell and Anton Bildh was a bit too much for the officials’ liking, and the Bruins went on the powerplay. Mitchell got called for roughing as his hands rose up into Bildh’s face 4 minutes into the 2nd. On the ensuing powerplay, the puck spent a lot of time in the Bruins zone as the Bears forecheck made it almost impossible to set up on the powerplay. At this point, the 17th ranked penalty kill in the league was 2/2 while the 12th ranked powerplay in the league was 0/2.
With 11:55 left in the period, a 3-on-1 break was gifted to the Bears. However, they weren’t able to get a shot off, as the decision to pass instead of shoot while having a clear shot to the net was made. The Bruins absolutely got away with one there.
Following that, the momentum seemed to be in the Bears’ favor, as they started to control the game. A few non-calls drew the ire of many fans in Hershey’s Giant Center.
A shot that caught Malcom Subban in the middle of the chest rebounded to the opposite side, right on the tape of Bears captain Garrett Mitchell. Mitchell was able to finish it in the wide-open net to take the lead at the 14:19 mark. At this point, the score was 3-2, with the Bears losing in the shot department 18-9. Definitely an EA Sports type of game at this point.
Immediately after the goal, the Bruins went right back to work, with a few opportunities skittering just wide of the net. Paul Carey of the Bears was stripped of the puck at the Providence blue line, leading to a 2-on-1 break the other way. Copley came up big, as a helmetless Christian Djoos came barreling into the net.
With 1 minute left in the period, the Bruins caught iron for the 2nd time this game, with a Jake DeBrusk slapshot from the point heavily catching the post. Just 30 seconds later, DeBrusk skated below the net and sent the puck out in front, taking Copley sliding with him. The strong Hershey backcheck kept Noel Acciari from getting a shot on a relatively open net. One last effort the other way by Travis Boyd missed the net, ending the 2nd period. The Bruins still led in shots 21-10, but the Bears had the lead at 3-2.
At the beginning of the 3rd, a shot from Paul Carey pinballed around in the slot before it was finally covered up by Subban. The Bruins started to regain some momentum, as they started lifting their shot count even higher. 3 minutes into the 2nd period, the shot total was 26-10 for the Bruins.
While clearing the zone, a puck was sent over the glass by fan-favorite Riley Barber, putting the Bruins on the powerplay due to the delay-of-game minor. A weak shot from Grzelcyk hit the outside of the post a minute into the powerplay. A whistle was then blown due to Garret Mitchell and Noel Acciari coming together in front of the net. Mitchell gave him a bit of a facewash, and nothing was called on the ice.
With 26 seconds remaining on the Providence powerplay, Malcom Subban’s lackluster night continued, as he handled the puck outside of the trapezoid, leading to a 1:34 long Hershey powerplay. The Bears were unable to get a shot off during the powerplay.
After some pressure in front of the net, Alex Grant took a costly penalty, as he was called for the high-stick on Garrett Mitchell. On their 5th powerplay, Riley Barber’s cross-ice pass to Travis Boyd was interfered with just enough to change the puck’s trajectory. They could not score, but were able to get loads of pressure on Subban. After Subban made his 11th save of the game, he covered it up to the radio timeout with 8:35 to go.
In what seemed like their first shot in ages, Wayne Simpson’s shot was gloved by Phoenix Copley for his 25th save of the game. That started the offensive pressure from the Bruins, with shots coming from all angles on the ice. Danton Heinen almost got through the Bears defense, but Hubert Labrie was able to stick the puck away before it got too dangerous.
A horde of chances came about for the Bruins with 3:40 remaining in regulation, but Copley was able to stop them all. Bruins defenseman Chris Casto tried to send a puck into the middle of the ice, but was stapled to the boards by Garrett Mitchell while doing so.
With 1:26 left in the 3rd period, Subban made his way to the bench in favor of the extra attacker for Providence. The Bruins won the ensuing faceoff to the right of Phoenix Copley, but the puck was blocked and cleared before they could get anything on net. Hershey’s Nathan Walker was able to find the puck on the left sideboards before shooting the puck into the empty net to secure this integral win for the Bears’ playoff chances. The game almost ended with a goalie fight, as Malcom Subban wanted a piece of Phoenix Copley. Copley obliged, but the refs did not, sending Subban to the locker room.
FINAL: Hershey Bears 4-2
SHOTS: Providence Bruins 30-15
- The goalies for the match-up were Phoenix Copley of the Hershey Bears and Malcom Subban of the Providence Bruins. Copley came in with a 17-7-3 record, 2.26 GAA, and .924 SV%, numbers he mainly got from his time with the Chicago Wolves before the Kevin Shattenkirk deal sent him from St. Louis to Washington. Subban came in with a less impressive 9-11-5 record, 2.47 GAA, and .918 SV%.
- The Bruin-killer for the Bears seems to be Stanislav Galiev. When asked if he is able to play with more fire against the Bruins, Galiev said, “No… We played well today as a line. When I have a chance, I try to shoot the puck or make a play, and everything’s clicking.”
- The Bears’s largest margin of victory occurred on Saturday night against the Binghamton Senators, winning by a score of 7-1. The largest victory for the Bruins was against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. They won that game by 8 goals. Talk about an Atlantic beat-down.
- Bridgeport, Providence, and Hershey now all have 77 points following tonight’s action, with Hershey having played 1 more game. With around 15 games to go, the final playoff spot could come down to the final game of the season between Providence and Hershey on April 15.
- Troy Mann won’t let his team play lackadaisical against Hartford this weekend: “We’ve got to be ready to go, because Friday’s and Saturday’s games are just as important as Sunday’s.” Also, his coaching methods for this game seemed to pay off: “Now we talked to the players, and we let them sleep in today with the time change and everything, but one of our messages today was, ‘Let’s raise the bar on Sunday.'”
Next weekend will be a very important one for the Hershey Bears. On Friday and Saturday, they will be home against the Hartford Wolf Pack, a team that is hanging out at the bottom of the Atlantic Division. It’s almost as if those will be their warm-up games for the big match-up next Sunday against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the team who currently holds the final playoff spot in the Atlantic.
The Providence Bruins also have a very important match-up against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers next weekend, and that will be on Friday. Following that, they play 2 teams on the outside looking in of the playoff picture: the Springfield Thunderbirds of the Atlantic Division and the Utica Comets of the North Division.
The next scheduled Bears game for GNGHockey will be March 17 against Hartford.
Dylan Coyle is a writer and the founder of Good Night, Good Hockey. He is also a Hershey Bears and Reading Royals reporter. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanRCoyle.