In all honesty, the intensity of a hockey team on the cusp on clinching the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs, in the season’s dying weeks is worthy of a documentary. But while the HBO Sports crew is off completing bigger and better projects, it’s now on our shoulders to recap the parade of American Hockey League events on Sunday.
The Hershey Bears entered the weekend finale with a game in hand against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The Tigers were noted as a team of unknown rookies all bidding for future stays in the AHL. The Bears-Sound Tigers matinee was scheduled for a 3pm start time, as well as a game between the seventh seed Albany Devils and Adirondack Phantoms. Hershey entered play only three points back from the Devils with one less game played.
Lastly, also in Connecticut, the Hartford Wolf Pack played host to the Norfolk Admirals. Norfolk entered one point in front of Hershey for the eighth and final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. It was an absolute perfect standings night for the Bears, as shortly after an entertaining 5-4 win in Bridgeport, both Albany and Norfolk fell to their respective opposition in regulation.
To recap Hershey’s weekend finale at Bridgeport in a nutshell, it’s safe to say Head Coach Mike Haviland might have numerous more gray hairs now, compared to the previous week. Similar to the night before in Worcester, the Bears and Sound Tigers were scoreless following one period– a frame with great back and forth pace and good chances for either side. Shots at first intermission were 9-8 Bears.
But similar to play Saturday night at the DCU Center, the scoreless hockey game was short lived once the second period became underway. The middle stanza in Bridgeport was a tale of two different periods meshed into one. Both teams combined for six goals in the second period, each team scoring three unanswered tallies.
Only 2:53 into the period, Kris Newbury began the scoring parade. Get used to reading Newbury’s name throughout the recap. He slipped behind the defense on a quick breakaway, a similar set up to Casey Wellman’s overtime game winner the night before, to give Hershey a 1-0 lead.
The one goal lead quickly grew to two, as at the 7:56 mark, Newbury sent a backdoor slap pass to Wellman’s tape for Wellman’s 18th of the season. Less than three minutes later, Newbury found the score column once more with a pretty deflection in front of the Bridgeport net, off a cannon by Cameron Schilling.
The Chocolate and White appeared to be in for a rout over the Sound Tigers, before unraveling in the second half of the period.
Only 23 seconds after Newbury’s second goal of the night, Alan Quine put Bridgeport on the scoreboard. He jammed a loose puck in the blue paint past David Leggio to cut Hershey’s lead to 3-1. Then after the Bears fanned on a odd-man rush chance, the Tigers quickly countered down ice with a rush of their own.
With 5:42 left in the period, Justin Johnson sent a cross ice feed to Andrey Pedan for the one-time finish. Suddenly Hershey’s once comfortable three goal lead was cut down to one. A Joe Finley cross-check at 14:53 came the Bears a shot on the power play and a chance to restore a two goal lead.
Jeff Taffe held the puck near the high slot and was blatantly tripped, but play continued with no penalty. It lead to a quick turnover and a break down ice for Bridgeport. Pedan scored a shorthanded goal, his second tally of the night to tie the game at 3-3 before the conclusion of the second period.
1:31 into the third period, the Tigers took their first lead of the night, at 4-3. On the power play, Brant Harris scored his first goal of the season.
But despite the negative shift in momentum, the Chocolate and White somehow found away to conquer the win. At the 5:40 mark, Schilling again fired a bomb from the point, but this time it was captain Dane Byers standing in front of the net for a deflection goal past Kevin Poulin.
With the game tied 4-4 approaching the later stages, it set the stage for heroics by Michael Latta. After a foiled wrap around attempt by Chris Brown, Latta jammed the puck into the net short side with 9:37 remaining on the regulation time clock.
The penalty kill remained stellar for the remainder of the game, and someway, somehow, the Hershey Bears added two more standings points with a scary, but entertaining 5-4 win.
Newbury added a fight on top of two goals and two helpers, making him worthy of a Gordie Howe Hat Trick.
Moments after the win, the help began to file in from out of town. The Adirondack Phantoms 4-3 score over the Albany Devils became final from the Glens Falls Civic Center. With the out of town help, it put Hershey one point behind seventh seed Albany with one game less played for the Bears.
Later, the Hartford Wolf Pack shined dim light on their playoff chances with a 3-2 regulation win over the Norfolk Admirals. The night finished with Albany in seventh with 83 points, Hershey in eighth with 82 points and Norfolk in ninth with 81 points. Both the Bears and Admirals have the same amount of games played.
To review tie breaking scenarios, if needed, all appears to be pointing in favor of the Hershey Bears. The primary tie breaker between two teams is regulation and overtime wins. This is known as the ROW column in the standings. The ROW is found by taking the total number of wins a team has, and subtracting the shootout wins.
Currently Hershey has 30 ROW compared to Norfolk’s 27. If the Bears and Devils were tied in points at the conclusion of the regular season, the Chocolate and White would also possess the tiebreaker over Albany. Although both teams are tied in ROW with 30, the secondary tiebreaker is determined by points in season series between teams. The Hershey Bears swept all four games over the Devils in their regular season series.