While we’ve all been focused on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ battle with the Washington Capitals, their AHL affiliate has been duking it out in the playoffs as well.
Right now, the Pittsburgh Penguins are embroiled in a playoff battle with the Washington Capitals. The series is evenly matched as the top two teams in the Eastern Conference duke it out in physical, fast games.
But one league down, things look pretty much the same. The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins are in the midst of their own series against Washington’s affiliate, the Hershey Bears. The Bears ended the season as the number one team in their division, while the Baby Pens spent the season fluctuating between second and third place.
The similarities don’t end there, either. The WBS Pens blew through their first round opponent, sweeping the Providence Bruins. Meanwhile, the Bears were pushed to five games (the maximum number in a playoff series in the AHL) by the Portland Pirates, something no one expected.
Well, hey, that looks a lot like how their NHL affiliates’ first rounds went too.
The Baby Pens have had a pretty good season considering how many key movers and shakers they lost to Pittsburgh. Their coach Mike Sullivan was promoted to the big team in December, while Matt Murray headlined the long list of players who were called up and eventually stayed up.
WBS came out strong in their first game of the series, taking care of the tired Bears 4-0. But in the two games since then, the Bears have gotten the better of the Penguins – pretty handily, too.
Tomorrow could be the end of the Baby Pens’ season if Hershey gets a win. However, a couple things are constant throughout the Pittsburgh organization: resilience, and high-flying scorers. Together those factors will work to keep the lower team in the hunt.
Daniel Sprong, returned to Wilkes-Barre following the end of his junior team’s season, has absolutely torn it up. He’s scored two game-winning goals in the playoffs so far, one against each team they’ve faced, and has impressed everyone who’s watched him play. Sprong has six points in six playoff games – and five of those have come from goals.
If WBS does get eliminated tomorrow night, though, you can probably expect a few black aces to get called up to the big club. Sprong will likely be among that group.
While these players probably won’t see action, it’s a nice safety blanket to have. An expanded roster of guys who had a pretty solid season and are raring to prove themselves at a higher level will up the excitement of practices and bolster the attitude down the road.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will face the Capitals for game six on Tuesday, after Washington avoided elimination last night. Now the Penguins have the opportunity to knock them out at home, and both teams will be playing their best hockey.
Meanwhile, the Baby Pens are on the opposite end of the stick, trying to avoid being eliminated at home. Casey DeSmith has been a decent surprise in net, and Jake Guentzel has also put up ten points.
Both Penguin teams can certainly pull out wins in their next game, staying alive in the playoff run. If they stick to their style of game and keep their eye on the prize, it’s more than possible to see both teams make it to – and through? – their respective conference finals.