The final day of the 76-game AHL season is upon us, and a battle between two divisional rivals is to take place. The Hershey Bears played host to the Providence Bruins on Saturday, April 15, just one day after both teams clinched a playoff spot. On Friday night, the Hershey Bears beat the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 2-1
On Friday night, the Hershey Bears beat the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 2-1 and clinched a playoff spot following Bridgeport’s 7-0 defeat at the hands of Springfield. It was a very long and drawn out battle to clinch a spot; for much of the final few weeks of the regular season, they were the odd team out in 5th place in the Atlantic Division. They got hot at the right time, and due to Bridgeport’s late season unraveling, they clinched playoffs.
Providence played the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Friday night, and they had a late game collapse. Up 4-1 with 10 minutes left, the Phantoms’ Colin McDonald scored to make it a game. Down by 2 in the final minute of play, the Phantoms tied the game to force a short overtime period in which they won less than a minute in. Because of the OT loss, the Phantoms clinched 2nd place in the Atlantic.
The situation for the game between the Bruins and Bears was simple: the winner plays the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the first round of the playoffs and the loser plays the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Early on in the 1st period, it was the Bears who were getting the majority of the chances. After using his body to capture the puck behind the net, Riley Barber sent a pass to Liam O’Brien in the crease, but his sticky was lifted before he could get a shot on the Bruins goaltender, Zane McIntyre.
After the first radio timeout, Providence’s Danton Heinen shoved the puck up to Jake DeBrusk, but as soon as Debrusk could get a stick on the puck, Hershey’s backcheck proved worthy. DeBrusk’s stick went flying and he went to the bench for a change.
With 10:21 remaining in the 1st, Jakub Vrana’s stick got caught between the skates of a Providence player, and he was sent to the box for tripping. On the ensuing power play, Ben Marshall received a pass in the slot and his shot went right into the body of Hershey’s Vitek Vanecek. They managed to get 3 shots on goal during the man-advantage, but none of them found the back of the net.
Directly after the power play for the Bruins, they would fan themselves a man down as Justin Hickman was called for hooking. An absolutely beautiful bit of passing from the Bears’ Christian Thomas and Stanislav Galiev found Jakub Vrana open at the bottom of the circle, and Vrana finished of the sequence with a goal by the desperate Zane McIntyre at the 13:24 mark of the 1st.
Early frustration seethed into the mind of Tyler Randell of the Bruins. With his body facing the boards, Hubert Labrie was thrust into the glass by Randell, sending the Bruin to the box. The power play proved to be an extremely short one; Colby Williams was called for a trip just 6 seconds in, making the game 4-on-4 for 1:54. The period ended with the Bears leading 1-0 in goals and the Bruins leading 9-6 in shots.
Early in the 2nd, a beautiful opportunity for the Bears was thwarted by the untimely removal of the net by McIntyre. Jakub Vrana get the puck on the right-wing circle and sent it to Travis Boyd in an almost 2-on-0 break down low. As Boyd was preparing for the empty-net shot, McIntyre took the net off its moorings when he slid across to make the save. The puck went in the net but was immediately waved off by the officials. After a review, the call stood much to the fans dismay.
Shortly thereafter, Hampus Gustafsson of the Bears was called for holding, sending the Bruins on a power play. Nathan Walker of the Bears caught a bouncing puck in the Bruins zone while shorthanded, and tried to move the puck forward to Dustin Gazley. Walker dove to hit the bouncing puck and it never settled down on the stick of Gazley. It didn’t matter; the puck found its way to the back of the net, fooling McIntye, to make it 2-0 at the 4:01 mark of the 2nd. This shorthanded goal was the first for Gazley.
Things were going very right for the Bears, as an opportunity down the left-wing side for Mattias Backman presented itself. Taking the puck, he wristed a beauty of a shot over the shoulder of McIntyre to make it 3-0 at the 5:07 mark of the 2nd.
At the mid-way point of the period, Liam O’Brien and Tyler Randell decided to drop the gloves in a very spirited fight. Both players delivered a very high amount of haymakers that connected. The fight ended with O’Brien going to the ground and then throwing his hands up to rile up the Hershey crowd. Randell’s helmet also flew into the stands. The 2nd period ended with Hershey leading 3-0 in goals and Providence leading 19-14 in shots.
Down 3-0 heading into the 3rd period, the Bruins began to take shots from anywhere on the ice that they could. There weren’t able to get many shots from the slot, and that really hurt them offensively. Late in the game, Colby Williams was breaking into the slot, but Linus Arnesson tripped him up to send the Bears on the power play. On the power play, they started out extremely sloppy and gave the Bruins opportunities to move forward. It ended without a shot for the Bears. The game ended with a very brisk 3rd period with little to no high-quality chances.
FINAL: Hershey 3-0
SHOTS: Providence 28-20
- The one really nice thing about this matchup is the fact that whoever wins gets the 3rd seed in the Atlantic division. It doesn’t matter if there is a shootout or overtime, it just simply comes down to the winner. That’s very helpful for the people who like to keep stats simple.
- After being called up to the Boston Bruins on an emergency basis, Malcolm Subban will not be in net to end the Providence Bruins’ season tonight. Taking that spot will be Zane McIntyre. He comes into tonight with a 21-5-2 record as well as a .932 SV% and a 1.99 GAA.
- Because the playoffs are starting next week, it’s time to say goodbye to the shootout. However, it’s not like the Bears really care about the shootout; they’ve played in only 3 shootouts this season and are the only team in the entire AHL without a win in one coming into tonight. The Bruins have played in 7 and have a record of 3-4 in them.
- To the Hershey Bears, it won’t matter whether the play the Lehigh Valley Phantoms or the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the first round of the playoffs. They have a 5-5-1-1 record against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and a 4-4-4-0 record against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. While they fare better against Lehigh Valley, the Bears have been playing very well lately against teams higher than them in the standings.
- The Providence Bruins also have a losing record against the two possible opponents in the first round. Against Lehigh Valley, they have a record of 2-2-2-0. Against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, they have a record of 2-3-0-1.
Next week, the Calder Cup Playoffs begin. Because the Bears won tonight, they will be playing the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the first round of the playoffs and the Bruins will be playing the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Both teams will play more away games than home games by virtue of holding the 3rd and 4th spots in the division. Both series will be mightily interesting; division play has been very intense this year in the best division in the AHL.
The next scheduled Bears game for GNGHockey will be their first home playoff game.
Dylan Coyle is a writer and the founder of Good Night, Good Hockey. He is also a Philadelphia Flyers, Hershey Bears, and Reading Royals reporter. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanRCoyle_BSH.