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.
The infamous Arabic proverb, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” suggests two parties have the ability to work together, and overcome a common enemy. In the world of sports, the term could easily be applied currently to the Hershey Bears and their push to qualify for the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs.
Entering Saturday night, the Bears and their I-81 Rivals from Wilkes-Barre both opposed a common enemy. The Penguins battled the eighth seed Norfolk Admirals, who sit in the conference’s final playoff spot, three points ahead of Hershey.
While the Pens attempted to provide a helping hand to the Chocolate and White, the Bears’ personal attention was focused on the St. John’s IceCaps. Wilkes-Barre followed through with a 2-1 victory over Norfolk, as the Bears topped St. John’s, 2-1 in a 12 round marathon shootout.
We are in a crucial point of the regular season where every game is a playoff game. At this point it’s undeniable the Hershey Bears are on the outside looking into the Eastern Conference playoff bubble, and are a better hockey team than indicated by their record.
Friday, the Chocolate and White began their weekend with its lone away tilt in Syracuse, New York. Seeking revenge after getting embarrassed in the AHL Showcase, the Bears fell to the Crunch by a 3-2 overtime count in the debuts of Chris Brown and Kris Newbury.
In 2009, the Hershey Bears dropped the Manitoba Moose in six games to win the Calder Cup. Shortly after the cup clinching game, “Count ‘Em Ten” T-shirts were released to the general public to celebrate the franchise’s tenth Calder Cup Championship.
Saturday night, fans gained the right to break out the former catch phrase in honor of not the Bears’ tenth Cup, but their tenth consecutive victory on Giant Center ice. Dane Byers scored a third period game-winning-goal, and the Chocolate and White celebrated a 2-1 over the Portland Pirates.
It may not show in the standings just yet, but at the halfway point of the AHL season, the Hershey Bears have developed some valuable momentum. Saturday night at Giant Center, the Bears pulled out a 5-3 win over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. The victory gave the Bears their fifth win in the last seven games.
The Hershey Bears debuted on Giant Center ice for the only time this weekend with a Saturday night match against the Springfield Falcons. Bears Play-by-Play voice Scott Stuccio tweeted hours before puck drop, “Bears undoubtedly will be ready to go for this one. Springfield (25-6-1-3) is the AHL’s top team (.771 points %).”
Hershey dropped a 4-2 tilt in Binghamton, NY the night before. However, Stuccio also tweeted Saturday afternoon that the Senators appeared to have too many men on the ice during their second period, game-winning goal.
Just as Stuccio warned, the Bears were ready to play and grinned out a 5-3 win over the top team in the American Hockey League.
After back to back losses to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the task grew larger on Sunday with a duel against the 6-2-0-3 Norfolk Admirals. The lead affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks were led in the season’s opening month by goaltender John Gibson.
The Ducks’ prospective goalie entered play with a 4-1-2 record and an astonishing 1.44 goals against average, as well as a save percentage of 95.5 percent. Former Hershey center and 2006 Calder Cup champion Dave Steckel was listed on the Admirals’ roster wearing number 39. The Bears’ offense tallied three quick first period goals but surrendered a game tying marker with 1:02 left, leading to an Admirals’ shootout win.
Friday night in the Eastern Conference finals of the OHL playoffs, the London Knights and Plymouth Whalers faced off in a game that London would win and eliminate the Whalers. On that Whalers team was Washington Capitals prospect, Tom Wilson.
After the loss, Wilson and teammate Connor Carrick were informed they were going to Chocolate town USA to join the Bears in their run at Calder Cup number 12.
On a night when the Chocolate and White punched their ticket to the 2013 Calder Cup playoffs, the players also accepted their awards for their accomplishments in a Bears uniform this season.
The Hershey Bears entered Binghamton on Saturday with an opportunity to clinch playoff berth with a win and out of town help. The out of town assistance was provided, but the Bears fell short in a 4-2 decision against the B-Sens. Out of town, both the Norfolk Admirals and Connecticut Whale lost in regulation to open the door for Hershey.
An hour south of Binghamton, the Manchester Monarchs won their battle against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to clinch the Eastern Conference’s seventh playoff position.
There is currently a three-way tie in points for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Tied with 79 points each are the Connecticut Whale, Norfolk Admirals and Hershey Bears. The Whale rapped up their regular season with a 5-1 loss to the Portland Pirates. Both the Bears and Admirals have one game remaining and will finish the season Sunday.
With only one spot remaining and the regular season concluding Sunday evening, here are the playoff scenarios:
- Hershey clinches playoff spot with regulation/overtime/shootout win despite a Norfolk win in regulation/overtime/shootout or loss.
- Norfolk clinches postseason berth with regulation/overtime/shootout win AND Hershey regulation/overtime/shootout loss. They can also clinch with a overtime/shootout loss AND Hershey regulation loss.
- Connecticut reaches the postseason with Hershey regulation loss AND Norfolk regulation loss. The only way the Whale can reach the postseason is if the season ends with a three-way tie still intact.