Bears Playoff Primer: Just Like Old Times

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Posted May 2, 2016

(via the Bears)

The last time Hershey and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton met this year, Vitek Vanecek came up from ECHL South Carolina to fend off the Penguins in a 2-1 shootout win. That was game number 12 between the teams this season; to say these franchises are familiar would be an understatement.

In Hershey’s 11 Calder Cups, they have run into another team from Pennsylvania just five times, the last coming in the East Division Finals of 2008-09 against these same Penguins. To go back further in time, the Bears swept the Fredericton Express (1981-88), which would become Wilkes-Barre eventually, in the finals of 1987-88. The Express relocated over the offseason to become the Halifax Citadels.

In the 12 matchups of 2015-16, the Bears went 6-5-1-0 (W-L-OTL-SOL), averaging 3.4 goals for and 3.25 goals against. Each team shut the other out once — WB/S with a 7-0 win in the team’s first meeting and Hershey on Boxing Day 5-0. After the Boxing Day matchup, the teams did not meet again until February 23.

WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON PENGUINS

After faltering late in the season, the Penguins lost out on the Atlantic Division title to cross-state rival Hershey. By virtue of their second place finish, they met the third place Providence Bruins. Though the Bruins — helped by Boston not making the playoffs — gave WB/S a fight, the Pens swept out the Bruins in three games.

With goaltending troubles in Pittsburgh, Wilkes-Barre turned to ECHL Wheeling to bring up Casey DeSmith. DeSmith missed out on his senior season at the University of New Hampshire after an arrest in August led to his release from the team. All charges were dismissed, but the NCAA denied his transfer request, leading him to sign with Wheeling. He averaged 2.55 GAA and a .915 save percentage in 13 games with the Nailers.

DeSmith played every minute of the series, eventually totaling 220:14. In that time, he allowed nine goals to Providence’s offense, limiting the AHL goal scoring champion Frank Vatrano to one goal. The power play in front of him went 2/11, allowing two shorthanded goals in the process; the penalty kill went 9/10.

Rookie Jake Guentzel signed with his draft team (3rd round, 2013) after his junior season with the University of Nebraska-Omaha ended in the NCHC first round. In 11 regular season games, he tallied six points (two goals, four assists) and carried that production over to the playoffs. He is tied with Connor Carrick of the Toronto Marlies with seven points (three goals, four assists) after a four-point Game 3. He pushed the Penguins to the next round with the double overtime winner on Jeremy Smith.

HERSHEY BEARS

In the only first round series to need a fifth game, the Bears came back to even the series twice: once with a 3-1 lockdown in Game 2 and again with a 2-0 shutout in Game 4.

Dan Ellis looked like the consensus starter heading into the series, but faltered in Game 1. Head coach Troy Mann opted for Justin Peters in Game 2 and never looked back. Since the 29-year-old took the crease, the Bears defense and he combined to limit the Pirates to four goals the remaining four games, never allowing more than two in a single contest.

When the series shifted to GIANT Center, the Pirates got three gifts with the Florida Panthers elimination in the Stanley Cup Playoffs: Michael Matheson, Greg McKegg, and Logan Shaw. The three disappointed, combining for just one goal (Mckegg) and one assist (Matheson) in the three games at Hershey.

The Bears showcased a balanced offensive attack, with only three skaters scoring two goals in the series — Jakub Vrana, Ryan Stanton, and Tyler Lewington; Aaron Ness assisted on four goals. Nine Bears scored goals against Mike McKenna, including league MVP Chris Bourque, who needed to wait until Game 4 to net his first of the playoffs.

Also noteworthy, this is the first time since 2009 that both the affiliates of the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins will meet in a playoff series at the same time as the NHL clubs. Last time out, the NHL Penguins knocked out Washington in seven games, but the Bears handed the AHL Penguins their exit in seven as well. There is still a chance that the ECHL affiliates, South Carolina and Wheeling, could meet in the Eastern Conference Finals; those teams played a weekend series split in early December.

SERIES SCHEDULE

Game 1 – Wed., May 4 – W-B/Scranton at Hershey, 7:00
Game 2 – Fri., May 6 – W-B/Scranton at Hershey, 7:00
Game 3 – Sat., May 7 – Hershey at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Game 4 – Mon., May 9 – Hershey at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 5 – Wed., May 11 – W-B/Scranton at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 6 – Fri., May 13 – Hershey at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 7 – Sun., May 15 – W-B/Scranton at Hershey, 5:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern

Home games in bold.