Great moments are often born via tense rivalries. The New York Rangers winter classic win would not have nearly been as special if it wasn’t against the Philadelphia Flyers. Therefore the Hershey Bears’ Calder Cup runs in 2006 and 2009 would not have been nearly as sweet without playoff series wins over their rivals from Interstate 81.
The Hershey Bears and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins will face each other in the postseason for the fifth time within the last seven Calder Cup Playoffs. In 2006, the Bears swept the Pens in four games to secure a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. The date was May 9, 2006 when Brooks Laich scored the lone tally in the match-up for the Chocolate and White at Giant Center. Ironically enough, the Pens’ goaltender that game was Dany Sabourin. Due to Michael Neuvirth’s recent injury in D.C., Sabourin was summoned to the Nation’s capital to back-up Braden Holtby through the Washington Capitals’ Stanley Cup bid. As a result of Sabourin’s call-up, the Bears turn to Daren Machesney as their playoff back-stop.
A year later in the second round of the 2007 playoffs, the Penguins earned a rematch against Hershey but suffered a similar fate. Alex Giroux scored an overtime power-play goal in game five at Giant Center to send Wilkes-Barre/Scranton packing for a second straight postseason. The next season, however, the third time was the charm for the W-B, as they eliminated the Bears from the postseason in the very first round of playoff action. The series also ended in five games in the best-of-seven. Scranton continued their playoff run, but fell two wins short from hosting hardware against the Chicago Wolves in the 2008 Calder Cup Finals.
2009, the most recent playoff battle between the two bitter rivals was by far the most entertaining and most memorable for several current Washington Capitals. It was a series that did not disappoint the home fans for each team, as the hometown team managed to win each game in the series. Down three games against two, Michael Neuvirth’s Hershey Bears returned to Giant Center to face the Penguins in game six with their season on the line. Just when the Giant Center faithful thought they were walking into a funeral the moment they had their ticket stub teared, they went on to witness a skillful performance by Neuvirth.
The Bears cruised to a 3-0 shutout win in game six. With all the momentum riding high in the Hershey locker room, they returned to the ice 24 hours later to again beat the Penguins 3-0 in game seven. Keith Aucoin scored the game-winning goal in the opening minute. Michael Neuvirth reached a milestone by shutting out the opposition in both games six and seven. It lead to the Bears hoisting their second Calder Cup in four years with a series winner over the Manitoba Moose two months later. Neuvirth would go on to earn series MVP in the 2009 Calder Cup Finals.
Although the Bears have outplayed the Penguins in the postseason since 2006 (as history shows), it is easy to believe the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have a large advantage over Hershey going into round one of the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs.
First advantage: Injuries, injuries and more injuries to both the Bears and Capitals. With Tomas Vokoun and Neuvirth both on the shelf in the NHL, both Hershey netminders, Braden Holtby and Dany Sabourin are currently serving in D.C. Aside from injuries to the Capitals, key Hershey forwards are currently injured in Christian Hanson and Jacob Micflikier.
Second advantage: Pittsburgh on the brink of elimination against Philly. Obviously any die-hard Pittsburgh fan would be upset over the three losses to Philadelphia to begin what they hoped would be a Stanley Cup run. However down on the farm, W-B fans eagerly await the elimination of the NHL Pens so they can receive several key players back in their team’s lineup. As of Tuesday, the Capitals were down two games to one against the Boston Bruins. Bears’ fans are also hoping for an early Capitals elimination so the can receive both their goaltenders back, along with Keith Aucoin, Cody Eakin and Dmitri Orlov.
Third advantage: The W-B/S Penguins earned home ice over the Bears for the best-of-five first round series. Mohegan Sun Arena is an intimidating building for the opposition to play in, and Hershey will have to win at least one game in Wilkes-Barre to possibly advance. With all the hurdles the Bears must overcome to beat the Penguins yet again in the postseason, Wilkes-Barre is the definite favorite to win the series.
First round schedule:
Game 1: April 20- HER @ WBS, 7:05 p.m.
Game 2: April 21- HER @ WBS, 7:05 p.m.
Game 3: April 25- WBS @ HER, 7:00 p.m.
Game 4: April 27- WBS @ HER, 7:00 p.m. (if necessary)
Game 5: April 28- HER @ WBS, 7:05 p.m. (if necessary)