Providence, RI- The last team to make the playoffs from the Eastern Conference, the Hershey Bears, appeared to be the hungrier and more prepared team Friday night against the Providence Bruins, the AHL's top team in the regular season. The Bears took a 4-0 lead midway through the second period and held on for a 5-2 win in the first game of the series.
Hershey took advantage of sloppy play by Providence and capitalized on special teams, scoring three power play goals, to take a 1-0 series lead in the best-of-five first round of the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs.
"They were better than us. We had some nerves early on. It showed. Some of our younger guys weren't as comfortable with the puck playing in their first professional playoff game," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy.
Carrying the play for the entire first period, Hershey finally took advantage at the 13:37 mark when Joey Crabb scored into an open net off a careless giveaway by the Bruins. Jeff Taffe found the puck in the right slot before sliding it to Crabb. Ryan Potulny picked up the other helper. "They had a two-on-zero after our failed clearing attempt," said Cassidy.
The Bruins were lucky to escape the first period down only 1-0. "[Providence goalie Niklas Svedberg] had been terrific. He kept us in the game for that first period," said Cassidy.
With Providence's Craig Cunningham and Trent Whitfield off for slashing penalties, Hershey extended its lead to 3-0 early in the second period. Former UMass star Casey Wellman scored on the two-man advantage at 4:43 of the period when he took a shot from the left side that bounced in off the skate of Matt Bartkowski.
Less than a minute later, former Providence College Friar Jon DiSalvitore snapped home a shot to give the Bears a three-goal lead. The goal appeared to catch Svedberg off guard. Nicolas Deschamps and Tomas Kundratek set up the power play goal.
The Bears' first three goals were all scored on the power play. "We weren't disciplined. We took too many penalties. We knew it. We put ourselves in a bad position taking too many penalties in the second period," said Cassidy. "[Hershey] has some older guys who know how to finish and know how important the power play chances are," added Cassidy.
Any air that was left in the home crowd was deflated at the 9:23 mark when Dmitry Orlov blasted a slap shot from the point that cleanly beat Svedberg. With his team down 4-0, Cassidy elected to yank Svedberg in favor of backup Michael Hutchinson for the remainder of the game.
Jamie Tardif finally got the Bruins on the board at the 13:56 mark of the second frame when he tipped in a nice centering pass from Jordan Caron who was skating down the left wall.
Christian Hanson cut the Hershey lead to two when he finally batted a puck past Bears goaltender Philipp Grubauer at the 3:54 mark of the third period. The goal came after a sustained flurry set up by Justin Florik and Torey Krug.
Mike Latta added a shorthanded empty netter with 6.2 seconds to go to ice the game for the underdogs from Hershey. The goal was the fourth special teams tally of the night by Mark French's club.
Cassidy squashed any talk of a goaltending controversy. "We're going with Svedy. He won goaltender of the year for a reason. I didn't pull him for what he did. He played terrific early," said the first-year head coach.
Despite the lopsided loss to the last team to make the playoffs, Cassidy was not all doom and gloom following the game. "I told our guys coming into the series we have five chances to win three games. Now we have four chances to win three games," said an optimistic Cassidy.