Hershey Bears turn attention to postseason, Atlantic rival Lehigh Valley
It took relentless pace and some late-season maneuvering for the Hershey Bears to claim a seat inside the Calder Cup playoffs.
Now, the 11-time AHL champions are focused squarely on Atlantic Division rival Lehigh Valley.
“I’m sure we were written off,” Bears coach Troy Mann said in his postgame press conference on Saturday.
“Somebody told me this morning that we had a 3-percent chance of making the playoffs a couple of weeks ago, so the guys persevered, kept believing, and it worked out.”
The Bears (43-22-8-3, 97 points), aided by a brilliant 10-3 skate in March, entered the final weekend with a light grip on the Atlantic’s fourth and final playoff bid.
However, Hershey outlasted first-place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (2-1) on Friday, and got 28 saves from Vitek Vanecek to shutout Providence (3-0) on Saturday to leapfrog the Bruins for third.
Depth and experience — more than a dozen team members were part of last year’s sprint to the Calder Cup finals — have keyed the late surge, Mann said.
“The team has done a really nice job responding when we needed it,” Mann said.
“I do like the mental fortitude in that room, and it probably has a lot to do with the guys who have played together for the last two seasons.”
The best-of-5 series with the Phantoms (48-23-5-0, 101 points) begins at 7:05 p.m. Friday at PPL Center.
It will mark the first time Hershey and Lehigh Valley have squared off in the postseason since the Bears’ last Calder Cup title run in 2009.
The regular season series with Lehigh Valley is even at 5-5-1-1.
Friday, April 21: Hershey at Lehigh Valley, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday, April 22: Hershey at Lehigh Valley, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday, April 26: Lehigh Valley at Hershey, 7 p.m.
Saturday, April 29: Lehigh Valley at Hershey, 7 p.m. (if necessary)
Sunday, April 30: Hershey at Lehigh Valley, 5:05 p.m. (if necessary)
Tickets for Hershey’s home playoff games are available at the Giant Center Box Office, by calling 717-508-BEAR (2327), and online at Ticketmaster.com. …
Hershey finished the regular season with two top 10 scorers in the AHL. Center Travis Boyd, who was recently named team MVP, finished seventh with 63 points (47 assists), while wing Chris Bourque was ninth (60 points). …
Stanislav Galiev, Liam O’Brien, and Christian Djoos were among a half-dozen players honored with team awards. O’Brien earned AHL Man of the Year honors while Djoos was named Most Improved Player and Best Defenseman.
Galiev won the John Travers/Steve Summers Award for highest plus/minus rating (+21) over 56 games.