Making last shot count Bears deliver crunch-time win, secure AHL playoff slot
Bears vs. Bruins BY KEVIN FREEMAN, Sports Writer
HERSHEY -- The scoreboard watching, the calculating of wins, losses and standings points is finally over for the Hershey Bears.
After being on the brink of the playoff cutoff for a month, the Bears' fate came down to one game. If they couldn't secure a berth in the playoffs prior to their last game, they wanted the regular-season finale to be one in which their destiny was in their own hands.
That's exactly what the Bears got Sunday, and they delivered, defeating the Manchester Monarchs 4-2 in front of a Giant Center record crowd of 10,984.
Hershey defenseman Chay Genoway scored 16 seconds into the game and Hershey was never tied or trailed thereafter. Manchester cut Hershey's lead to 2-1 in the third only to have the Bears restore the two-goal edge 25 seconds later.
The victory sends Hershey, the eighth and final seed in the American Hockey League's Eastern Conference, into a best-of-five first-round matchup with the Providence Bruins beginning Friday in Rhode Island.
Game 3 and Game 4 (if necessary) of the series are scheduled for the Giant Center, on May 4 (7 p.m.) and May 5 (5 p.m.)
"It's been tough,'' a relieved Hershey coach Mark French said of his team's last couple of weeks. "Having so many road games at the end (six of the final seven) and with the transition of some of our roster, it was hard to get players accustomed to playing together, although I think we're better. So it's been a grind. Hopefully, we can catch our breath and get ready for Providence.''
Having the Monarchs clinch a playoff berth after Saturday's games may have indirectly worked in Hershey's favor in two ways. One, Manchester goalie Ty Rimmer made his pro debut and, two, Manchester leading scorer Linden Vey was scratched, presumably to rest for the playoffs.
Rimmer received his AHL baptism early when Genoway fired the puck from the left point past the goalie just 16 seconds into the game.
"That goal got the crowd into it,'' said Hershey winger Jon DiSalvatore, who scored a pair of third-period goals. "That energized us.''
The goal was just the start of Hershey's seemingly incessant first-period pressure. The Bears outshot the Monarchs 15-3 at one point with Rimmer bouncing back to hold the Bears at bay.
He couldn't, however, stop Boyd Kane's shot from the right faceoff circle that gave the Bears a 2-0 lead at 14:12 of the first period.
"Kane's goal was important because we had tilted the ice and controlled play so much that having just a one-goal lead at the first intermission would have been deflating,'' French said.
The Bears killed off a couple of penalties at the end of the first period, including 47 seconds of a 5-on-3 Manchester advantage. Hershey continued its strong defensive play at the start of the third period when it shut down a four-minute Manchester power play, surrendering just one shot.
The player withstanding the most pressure was Hershey goalie Philipp Grubauer, this being a win-or-else game. Grubauer, who made 23 saves, said he couldn't let the weight of the game change his focus.
"You have to look at it as a normal game,'' he said. "Yes, we had to win but if you say to yourself that you have to win, you play worse. Just go out and have fun.''
Grubauer couldn't glove a puck that was bouncing around at his feet six minutes into the third period and Manchester's Tanner Pearson whacked it past him to narrow Hershey's lead to 2-1.
But less than half a minute later, DiSalvatore redirected Julien Brouillette's shot past Rimmer to make it 3-1, Hershey. DiSalvatore added his 18th of the season with five minutes to play in regulation and Hershey was on its way to the postseason.
It was the first time the Bears could say that for sure.
"We've just been trying to find a way in (to the playoffs),'' Taffe said of the last couple weeks.
The Bears' search went to the end. And they found their way in.
Notes: The complete first-round schedule: Game 1, Friday, April 26, at Providence, 7:05 p.m.; Game 2, Sunday, April 28, at Providence, 3:05 p.m.; Game 3, Saturday, May 4, at Hershey, 7 p.m.; Game 4 (if necessary); Sunday, May 5, at Hershey, 5 p.m.; Game 5 (if necessary); Wednesday, May 8, at Providence, 7:05 p.m. ... Hershey will face some old friends in its first-round playoff matchup with Providence, namely Chris Bourque, Christian Hanson and Graham Mink. ... The Bears handed out their end-of-season awards after Sunday's game. Hershey captain Boyd Kane was named Man of the Year (off-ice contributions) and plus-minus winner. Patrick McNeill was tabbed Unsung Hero; Garrett Mitchell, Most Improved; Steve Oleksy (now with Capitals), Best Defenseman; Cameron Schilling, Rookie of the Year; and Jeff Taffe, MVP.
Friday, April 26
Hershey at Providence7:05 p.m.
Sunday, April 28
Hershey at Providence3:05 p.m.
Saturday, May 4
Providence at Hershey7 p.m.
Sunday, May 5
x-Providence at Hershey5 p.m.
Wednesday, May 8
x-Hershey at Providence7:05 p.m.