Wednesday night marked the final game of the first round of the AHL playoffs. The Providence Bruins dropped the first two games of the series against the Hershey Bears, but managed to come back and win the second two games, forcing a game 5. The Eastern Conference semi-finals were waiting for the series winner to determine the match ups for the second round. After jumping out to a 2-0 lead against the number 1 seed, it seemed that Hershey had all the momentum they would need to continue onto the second round. But, a phrase and an unwillingness to give up gave Providence what they needed to even up the series.
“We’ve done it the hard way all year. We’ve been in a lot of close games and tend to pull them out,” Head Coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We played against a good opponent. It’s never automatic in the playoffs.”
During a pregame nap on Saturday, veteran Providence forward Bobby Robins came up with the phrase that pushed the team forward: be the better bear. It fit with the fact that the Bruins were taking on the Bears, but also on a different level too. It fit with the idea that in order to win games, you have to be the better player that wins the battles to win the game.
The game started off quickly for Hershey and it seemed like the tide might have been shifting back in their favor. Just over a minute into the game, Casey Wellman put the puck over Niklas Svedberg’s shoulder to put the Bears up 1-0. But after that, the Bruins really picked up the pace. At 5:04, Bruins forward Justin Florek got credit for his first goal of the playoffs. It was a deflection in front of the net that happened to beat Phillipp Grubauer to tie the game.
The game stayed tied through the end of the period. The second period picked up right where the first had left off in terms of physicality. Being in the fifth straight game, the tensions were high. The two teams knew that whoever lost would be at the end of their season. But, it became clear that Providence wanted it more as Hershey only took 6 shots in the 2nd period. It was the Bruins that took the lead after Jordan Caron beat Grubauer on a shot from between the faceoff circles.
Hershey seemed to be reignited when they came out for the final period of the series. The Bears evened up the score when Joey Crabb scored an impressive fifth playoff goal. It seemed like both teams were competing much more as the end of the post season loomed for one of the teams. The Bruins proved that they were in it to win it. At 9:20, Jamie Tardiff, the Bruins regular season leading goal scorer, put one through a lot of traffic in front of Grubauer to put his team back on top.
“He does what he does,” Bruce Cassidy said of Tardiff and the game winner. “He gets to the front of the net. He’s scored 3 goals in this series all from pretty much the same spot.”
The Hershey Bears had a late chance to even the game and send it to overtime. They pulled their goalie and then found themselves on a power play. Although they put up some amazing pressure, Svedberg held strong and the Bruins held on for the win. It was a hard fought series and the Bruins were sure to never give up. They have a quick turnaround now as they are set to host the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for the second round starting Friday.
Photo Credit: Providence Bruins