As the Capitals inch closer to a fifth Southeast Division title in six years, their top minor league affiliate has a more modest goal. The Hershey Bears are simply looking to qualify for the American Hockey League playoffs as the eighth seed in the AHL’s Eastern Conference.
While the Bears have qualified for the Calder Cup Playoffs every year since their current affiliation with the Capitals was established in 2005, this year’s club has work to do to keep the streak alive.
The Bears (33-28-3-6) enter the final two weeks of the regular-season clinging to the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Hershey is tied with the ninth place Norfolk Admirals (both teams with 75 points) although the Bears own the tiebreaker by virtue of more wins in regulation. Both teams have six games left.
Of Hershey’s six remaining games, five are on the road (including three games in three nights in three cities this weekend), with the regular-season finale at Giant Center on Sunday, Apr. 21.
The Bears enter the weekend on a two-game losing streak despite the recent additions of defensemen Tomas Kundratek, Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt.
Kundratek returned to the Bears lineup last Friday -his first AHL appearance since Jan.20- and scored twice in a 4-1 win against the Syracuse Crunch.
Schmidt made his professional debut in a 2-1 loss to Syracuse on Saturday and recorded an assist in each of his first two games with the Bears. The Capitals signed Schmidt to an entry-level contract last week following his junior season at the University of Minnesota.
Orlov scored in a 4-3 loss to the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins last Sunday and had a game-high five shots on goal.
The Bears visit the Eastern Conference-leading Providence Bruins on Friday at 7:05 p.m.
ECHL ROYALS GRAB EARLY LEAD
The Kelly Cup Playoffs are already underway where the Capitals’ ECHL affiliate, the Reading Royals, lead their first-round series 2-0 against the Greenville Road Warriors.
Reading goalie Riley Gill has opened the series with back-to-back shutouts as the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Quarterfinal shifts to South Carolina for Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary).
Prospect Stanislav Galiev (Capitals’ third-round pick, 86th overall, 2010 NHL Draft) has a goal, a plus-2 rating and eight shots on goal through the first two games of the series.
HUNTER, WILSON, CARRICK CRUISING IN OHL PLAYOFFS:
North of the border, Dale Hunter’s London Knights have a 2-1series lead against the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League’s Western Conference Semifinals.
The Knights swept the Saginaw Spirit 4-0 in the opening round of the OHL playoffs.
Should Hunter and the Knights eliminate Kitchener, they could face Capitals’ prospects Tom Wilson (first-round pick, 16th overall, 2012 NHL Draft) and Connor Carrick (fifth-round pick, 137th overall, 2012 NHL Draft) in the OHL’s Western Conference Finals.
The Whalers swept their first-round series, 4-0 against the Sarnia Sting and now lead their second-round series, 2-1 against the Owen Sound Attack.
Wilson has two goals and eight points in five games this post-season while Carrick has eight assists in seven playoff games.