Not entirely sure if it is official as technically the Sharks can still tie Hershey...if they win their remaining 9 games and the Bears lose their remaining 9...but in my opinion the Bears clinched home ice through at least the first 3 rounds of the playoffs last night.
After losing in Worcester 6-2 a couple weeks ago this matchup was highly anticipated by the Bears and their fans. For much of the season Hershey dismantled inferior East division opponents in a unusual down year for the division. So when the top two teams in the Eastern Conference met a couple weeks ago a good game was expected.
Unfortunately the Bears were at the tail end of a road 3 in 3 and were visibly tired. But still they got beat 6-2 and weren't particularly happy about it.
Fast forward to last night in the first game of a 3 in 3 the Bears managed to dominate from the opening whistle as they scored 3 times in the first 6 minutes and went on to a 7-2 win over the Sharks.
There were multiple fights and scrums throughout the game and even 2 ejections. This had all the makings of a playoff game going in but turned into a statement game after the goals were scored. The animosity is definitely there on both sides and a possible matchup in the Eastern Conference finals looms.
Neither team is looking to that just yet though. The Sharks have competition for the division right on their heels with the Portland Pirates sitting only 3 games back in the Atlantic. While Hershey is gunning for the overall #1 spot in the AHL playoffs.
Only 2 teams still have a chance to take over that spot. Chicago is mathematically still alive but like Worcester it would take winning all their games and Hershey losing all. Which just isn't going to happen. Hamilton is the more serious competition as they are only 6 points behind Hershey for the spot. However the Bears have 2 games in hand on the Bulldogs with 9 to play compared to just 7 for Hamilton.
Getting the #1 spot would be great but the last 4 (surely longer but that is the stats I can find right now) to get the #1 seed have failed to win the Calder Cup including the 06-07 Bears who finished #1 overall only to lose to Hamilton in the finals.
Home ice is definitely an advantage for the Bears this year though so you would have to think that they would be fairly confident going forward with home ice. They have gone a ridiculous 30-4-0-2 at home this season with a winning percentage of .861. The only team that comes close to that is Chicago who was 27-7-0-3 and a .770 winning percentage. No other team is above .700!
Now that the 'big' game is out of the way this weekend the Bears have to be ready for the next 2 opponents. Wilkes Barre visits tonight and Binghamton on Sunday. While neither team is the caliber of Worcester (by the numbers anyway) they are still dangerous and surely want to win.
Wilkes Barre has jumped Norfolk and taken over 3rd place in the division to secure a playoff spot, for now. But a loss to Hershey would still be damaging to their position.
LET'S GO BEARS!!!