It’s safe to say there will be a bear in the Eastern Conference Finals. What’s unclear is if it will be the Hershey Bears (#3 seed) or the Providence Bruins (#4 seed). The series gets underway Saturday at Giant Center.
How They Got Here
Hershey defeated the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in an improbable series where the road team won every game. The Bears went into Allentown after squandering a 2-0 series lead and emerged victorious in a winner-take-all Game 5 Sunday evening.
Providence won the first game of their series, then stumbled a bit in Game 2 and Game 3 (both losses were by a single goal with Game 2 going into overtime), before closing the Penguins out in Games 4 and 5 in Wilkes-Barre. It marked the first time a team has defeated the regular season champs in the first round since the 1995-1996 Cornwall Aces knocked out Albany in Round 1 per the AHL.
— AHL Communications (@AHLPR) April 30, 2017
In the Regular Season (teams split 3-3)
December 31 @ Hershey – Providence 4, Hershey 1
January 27 @ Providence – Providence 3, Hershey 2 (SO)
February 17 @ Providence – Providence 2, Hershey 2
February 18 @ Providence – Hershey 4, Providence 0
It should be noted that since the arrival of Pheonix Copley, Hershey is 2-0 against Providence.
The Last Time They Met in the Playoffs
It is an ugly memory for Bears fans for sure – it was 2013 and the Bears won the first two games of the series on the road in Providence before the Bruins stole the next two games at Giant Center. In the decisive Game 5, the Bruins succeeded on home ice and advanced, sending the Bears home.
Pheonix Copley started all five games against Lehigh Valley, stopping 152 of 163 pucks he’s faced. He should continue to be the workhorse in the second round.
Zane McIntyre started all five games against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, stopping 175 of 187 shots, including a 50-save game in the series finale. Since Boston (NHL) has been eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Dan Vladar has also joined the team.
For Hershey, Chandler Stephenson back in Washington means one less scratch for Troy Mann unless the Capitals/Penguins series does not stretch through the start of the second round for the Bears. Trotz stated previously that Stephenson’s recall was for depth purposes. Without Stephenson, Hershey will turn to Nathan Walker to slide from wing to center, a move he has made in previous games including Game 5 of the series when Hampus Gustafsson was a healthy scratch.
Speaking of healthy scratches, Washington’s First Round pick from 2014, Jakub Vrana, has been a healthy scratch in Games 4 and 5. Rumors are circulating as to the cause, but suffice it to say, the intrigue surrounding Vrana’s absence from the ice has been mounting and will continue to do so right up until Saturday more than likely.
Stanislav Galiev led the way in Round 1 with an incredible 3 goals and 2 assists. In all, Hershey has 12 men on the score sheet after Round 1 including six defensemen, proving that their scoring can come from just about anywhere at any time.
Providence is led by rookie Danton Heinen, whose 4 goals and 2 assists have him atop the leaderboard for most points in the playoffs. While Hershey’s 12 men scoring is impressive, Providence has 16 skaters with at least a point including Tommy Cross (1G, 3A) and Sean Kuraly (0G, 1A) who returned from Boston (NHL) along with Vladar.
Hershey’s Madison Bowey leads the d-men with a +2 rating. In all, there are five Hershey defenders in the + column. One of them is injured Aaron Ness is currently out with a lower body injury. Bowey, having worn a face-shield for much of the first round, took it off for the third period after one of his worst performances in periods 1 and 2. With the loss of Ness, Mann has turned to Bowey, Tyler Lewington, Christian Djoos, rookie Colby Williams, and veteran NHL’er Tom Gilbert with rookie Jonas Siegenthaler in reserve.
For Providence, Linus Arnesson not only leads the d-men in +/-, he also leads the team at +2 after appearing in two games. In all, Providence only boasts nine skaters above 0 and four of them are d-men, which is a strong testament to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton team they knocked off in Round 1.
The Bottom Line
Hershey exorcised a bit of a demon with the come-back in Round 1, but you can bet the guy who was around for that 2013 loss to the Bruins remembers it well – he’s the Captain, Garrett Mitchell, and I’m sure he’ll have his team ready for redemption.
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) May 1, 2017
Prediction – Hershey in 6 (because nothing comes easily in Chocolatetown).
By Julie Beidler
— Beids (@juliebeidler) April 29, 2017