Turns out the Hershey Bears did not need to win out in order to make the playoffs. After 25 weeks, the Bears only needed one win in the final two to secure their spot, but won both games, earning the 3rd seed in the Atlantic Division. They will face #2 seed, Lehigh Valley, in the opening round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Thanks to a 2-1 victory over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Friday night and Springfield’s stunning 7-0 victory over Bridgeport, Hershey earned their spot in the playoffs Friday night, but the Bears didn’t stop there. They followed that up with a 3-0 shutout in the regular season finale to jump ahead of Providence in the standings. Providence will face Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the opening round.
Jakub Vrana tallied two goals and an assist in two games this week to lead the Bears into the playoffs on a high note. Fellow Czech, Vitek Vanecek, making his first start since mid-March, earned a shutout Saturday, stopping all 28 shots he faced. Pheonix Copley also had a strong showing Friday night, stopping 22 of 23 shots, proving that the Bears will not be an easy out for anyone in the postseason. Winners of their final five regular season games, the Bears have now knocked off the top seeds in both the Atlantic and North Divisions in the past two weeks to earn their spot in the playoffs.
On Friday, it was the top seed in the Atlantic, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, that ended up on the losing end as Vrana and Christian Djoos both scored for Hershey in the 2-1 victory. The lone Penguin goal came as Hampus Gustafsson was serving a minor penalty for delay of game, and tied the game midway through the third period.
But just 27 seconds later, Djoos became the hero, earning first star honors. Copley was the second star. Vrana, with a goal and an assist, was conspicuously absent from the list.
Saturday night, with the 3rd spot in the division on the line, Troy Mann went to Vanecek for the start, and the Czech took advantage of the opportunity to finally start with a 28-save shutout of Providence.
Vrana opened the scoring on the power play after Christian Thomas, making his first appearance after being a healthy scratch for the last five games, centered the puck to Stan Galiev, who tapped it right to Vrana for the goal.
In the second, Dustin Gazley, making just his third appearance this season after a lower body injury sidelined him in October, connected for his first goal of the year. Nathan Walker, who got pushed down from behind, made an incredible diving effort to push the puck ahead to Gazley for the short-handed goal. D-man Mattias Backman then scored his fourth of the season just 1:06 later with Gustafsson and Thomas assisting.
Vanecek shut it down from there to earn second star honors. Gazley was named first star and Backman was third.
Hershey’s PP was 1-for-5, while the PK was 3-for-4 with a goal.
The Bears open the Calder Cup Playoffs in Lehigh Valley Friday and Saturday night. It is a best of 5 series. Complete details can be found at the bottom of this article.
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- Jakub Vrana – 2G, 1A
- Christian Thomas – 2A
- Vitek Vanecek – 1 Win/Shutout
|#||Name||Games played||Goals||Assists||+/-||Shots||Pen Min.|
Vitek Vanecek 1-0 – 28 saves on 28 shots
Pheonix Copley – 1-0 – 22 saves on 23 shots
THREE STARS of the GAME (opponent)
- Djoos (WBS), Gazley (Prov)
- Copley (WBS), Vanecek (Prov)
- Backman (Prov)
ADD – Chandler Stephenson – Returned on loan from Washington – April 11
ADD – Adam Morrison – Signed to PTO – April 11
Calder Cup Playoff Schedule – Round 1
Friday, April 21 at Lehigh Valley – 7:05
Saturday, April 22 at Lehigh Valley – 7:05
Wednesday, April 26 at Hershey – 7:00
Saturday, April 29 at Hershey – 7:00 – IF NECESSARY
Sunday, April 30 at Lehigh Valley – 5:05 – IF NECESSARY
By Julie Beidler
— Beids (@juliebeidler) April 16, 2017