Well, it seems like the Hershey Bears have a flair for the dramatics. Of course, after almost being reverse-swept in the previous series against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, it would only seem natural for the Bears to need to play in a winner-takes-all game against the Providence Bruins tonight at the Giant Center. After being outshot dramatically in games 3 through 5, they somehow came back to “Chocolate Town” with a 3-2 lead in the series. That was not to last, however, as the Providence Bruins were able to overcome a 2-goal deficit in game 6 with 4 unanswered goals to force the series into a game 7. Hershey’s starting goaltender for the 2nd half of the season, Pheonix Copley had been out for games 5 and 6 after hurting himself in game 4. On a day-to-day basis, Vitek Vanacek was made to fill in for the star goaltender, and he has not played quite fantastic with an .898 save percentage in two games. Zane MacIntyre has been stellar as per usual for the Providence Bruins, providing a fantastic .923 save percentage throughout the playoffs so far. To be quite honest, if it wasn’t for the Bears’ overtime heroics that provided them with all 3 of their wins, this series could have been a sweep.
Early in the 1st period of play, Dustin Gazley hooked Wayne Simpson to send the Bruins on a power play. Although the Bruins came into tonight with a 16.3% power play for the entirety of the playoffs, the Bears’ 88.2% mark on the penalty kill would be a huge factor to look out for tonight. And a big factor it was on this penalty kill: after a sliding block by Chris Bourque to prevent a pass in the slot, his brother Ryan Bourque stole the puck from Austin Czarnik at the blue line to get a 1-on-1 opportunity on the penalty kill. His shot eventually went wide, and the Bears’ fantastic penalty kill showed.
An opportunity for the Bruins’ Wayne Simpson opened itself up after Madison Bowey turned the puck over in the hashmarks of the Bears’ zone. No one seemed to gravitate towards Simpson, who was able to skate uncontested into the slot. His shot was snared by the glove of Vitek Vanecek. Only around 30 seconds later, another defensive breakdown in front of the goal led to a mishandled and loose puck on the part of Vanecek. After finding the puck sitting at the top of the blue paint, Jordan Szwarz was able to float the puck over the shoulder and between the post of Vanecek, leading to a 1-0 scoreline in favor of the Bruins at the 6:50 mark of the 1st.
Just a couple minutes later, a quiet crowd erupted due to a goal off the stick of fan-favorite Riley Barber. After receiving a pass from Australian Nathan Walker, he was able to skate directly into the slot without any Bruins player marking him. His shot sped by the glove-side of MacIntyre to tie the game at the 8:56 mark of the 1st.
With 4:32 left in the period, the Bears were given a power play following a tripping call to Chris Porter as he took down a speeding Dustin Gazley. On the power play, there was an immediate chance when the puck slipped into the crease only to be covered up by MacIntyre. The Bears were not to score on the power play, and the period ended in a 1-1 tie with the Bruins leading 10-6 in shots.
Under 2 minutes into the 2nd period, Tyler Randell of the Bruins had to leave the ice after being struck by the puck during a Bears clearing attempt. He got up and left a puddle of blood on the ice, but he nonetheless skated on his own weight.
After a beautiful piece of passing between Wayne Simpson and Jordan Szwarz, Szwarz was able to tuck the puck past a sliding Vitek Vanecek for his 2nd goal of the game to put the Bruins up 2-1 at the 5:41 mark of the 2nd. Aaron Ness and Tyler Lewington seemed to lose their assignments on the play leading up to the goal. That was where the game started to get ugly.
Madison Bowey absolutely rocked a defenseless and puck-less Noel Acciari at the Hershey blue line and no call was made. After some heavy hitting and a scrum behind Vanecek’s net, the Bears’ Garrett Mitchell and the Bruins’ Wayne Simpson were called for roughing to put both teams down to a 4-on-4 session. After this session, a scramble in front of the Hershey net led to a group of players jumping into the crease for the Bruins to try and slot the puck in the back of the net, but after losing sight of the puck, the referee blew the whistle dead. Tom Gilbert was able to get a piece of the puck with his stick, possibly saving a goal.
The referees were given a reign of chants from the Hershey faithful after missing a clear-cut – and I mean clear as day – holding call behind the Hershey net. After a multitude of defensive mistakes in the Hershey end, Christian Djoos lost his man, Wayne Simpson, in front of Vanecek, and he was able to capitalize with a goal to make it 3-1 at the 12:31 mark of the 2nd period.
With 5:02 left in the 2nd, the Bears caught a break when MacIntyre caught the puck as he skated out all the way to the circle, resulting in a delay-of-game penalty. On the ensuing power play, an absolutely beautiful tic-tac-toe play happened with all 5 Bears players tapping the puck crisply to each other’s sticks, ending with a quick pass across the crease to Chandler Stephenson to finish to play and bring the game back within 1. The goal happened at the 16:16 mark of the 2nd to make it 3-2.
Finishing strong to end the period, the Bears were able to get plenty of chances on the Providence netminder, forcing him to make some uncomfortable saves through traffic. With all the momentum in the world going to Hershey, the Bruins were able to get a sneaky opportunity down low that pulled Vanecek away from the middle of the goal, but by throwing the pad out, he was able to stop the Bruins from going up 4-2. However, Tyler Lewington was called for a hooking penalty, and the Bruins went on the power play. The man-advantage would carry its way over to the 3rd period after they were unable to pad their lead. At the end of the 2nd, the score was 3-2 in favor of the Bruins and the shots were 22-14 in the Bruins’ favor as well.
The 3rd period started with the Bruins’ power play continuing on, but they weren’t able to convert during the advantage. A collision between Dustin Gazley and Aaron Ness sent each other sprawling into their goaltender, knocking the net off as it happened. No one was hurt during the play, but a stick blade was chopped off.
With 12:59 left to play in regulation time, a Hershey power play was to come due to a slashing call on Colton Hargrove. With time starting to become a factor, this Bears power play was struggling to make an impact. They were not able to convert on it, but that’s not to say that chances were not there. Going the other way, a shot deflected by Wayne Simpson almost trickled its way into the goal, but the puck seemed to die just before picking up any steam to cross the line.
The Bears appeared to be gaining a lot of momentum in hopes of tying this game up. The Bruins were doing a fantastic job of clogging lanes in the middle, and Hershey was finding it difficult to answer to the challenge. With just under 2 minutes to go, Troy Mann called Vanecek to the bench for an extra attacker. This didn’t prove helpful, and the Bruins were able to add an empty netter to seal the deal and win the series by winning game 7, 4-2.
SERIES: Providence wins 4-3
FINAL: Providence 4-2
SHOTS: Providence 27-17
- The leading scorer of the playoffs coming into the 7th game of this series for the Bruins is centerman Danton Heinen. Heinen has provided his team with a scoring rate of just under 1 point per game, posting 10 points in 11 playoff games so far. His regular season ended with him recording 44 points in 64 games, so he is scoring points at a higher rate than the regular season. For the Bruins, this is very welcoming.
- The leading playoff scorer for the Bears should come to no one’s surprise: Chris Bourque, a club legend. Whether it is his magic touch with the puck or his new haircut, he has been the top man for the Bears. Throughout 11 games, he has also recorded 10 points. He scored 60 points in 76 games this season with the Bears.
- So this is not the only game 7 on the schedule for tonight: the Syracuse Crunch and Toronto Marlies will also be playing in a do-or-die game for a berth in the Eastern Conference Final. The home team has won every game in the series throughout the first 6 games, so it’ll be interesting to see if that holds true tonight in the ‘Cuse. UPDATE:
- Speaking about game 7s, a 2nd round game 7 should come to no shock for the Bears. Last season, they played the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the 2nd round and the series went to a game 7. That game went to OT. The Bears won because of a Travis Boyd turnaround shot that put them into the Eastern Conference Final. I was also at that game with my friend (and USHL draftee), Ryan Snowden, and I have a pretty gnarly video of the goal (WARNING: some strong language).
- Because of the Bears’ game 7 loss, they have many players to make decisions on contract-wise. Of course, they fall under the Capitals’ discretion (for the most part), but the players who will be UFAs are Tom Gilbert, Pheonix Copley, Garrett Mitchell, Christian Thomas, Paul Carey, Chris Bourque, and Stanislav Galiev, while players who will become RFAs are Nathan Walker, Liam O’Brien, Travis Boyd, Christian Djoos, and Chandler Stephenson.
Hershey Head Coach Troy Mann on if he can attribute any of the loss to the way the AHL playoff format is set: “When you’re in playoff mode since February, and we’re a smaller skilled team, it could’ve taken its toll. We were hanging on and looking tired.”
Mann on how it helps the team mentally to have two goalies who can steal games: “I think that the guys recognize that Vitek had an excellent season. He gave us some big starts down the stretch. We ran with Copley, and that’s we acquired him. Vitek has a bright future…”
Mann on how Vrana played in this series after being benched in multiple games during round 1: “I thought he was OK. I thought he was average. He had some spurts there, we could see some speed there. It was a tough year for him at this level.”
Mann on balancing the philosophies of coaching to win and coaching to develop at the AHL level: “From a coaching perspective, you have to balance that because it’s important that these young players play. You’ve got to earn it, nothing is given to you here. You’re not just automatically going to get into the lineup. You’re going to work towards it and deserve to play. We’re going to handle mistakes, but at the same time, that makes them better players.”
Hershey forward Riley Barber on the play of both Vanecek and Copley: “I think that was the biggest thing for our stretch there that got us in the playoffs and got us some momentum. Copley kept us in the Lehigh series for sure at times. Goaltending wins championships… It sucks that Copley got hurt [this series], but Vitek stepped in and did an unbelievable job.”
For Hershey, their season is over. They have a lot of decisions to make on many pending UFAs and RFAs, and the toughest decision of all might have to do with Stanislav Galiev. Personally, I don’t believe he will be back with the team. They had a long and hard-fought battle within their division this year, and the battle scars show. Providence will move on to face the Syracuse Crunch in the Eastern Conference Finals after winning their own game 7 against the Toronto Marlies.
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.