The BEARS begin the 2009 Calder Cup playoffs on Thursday night, traveling to Philadelphia to take on the Phantoms in Game 1 of the East Division Semi-Finals. HERSHEY'S foray into postseason play marks the fourth straight season the Chocolate and White have advanced to the Calder Cup playoffs, with two of the last three appearances resulting in Calder Cup Finals appearances. The BEARS most recently won the Calder Cup in 2006 under current Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau.
Philadelphia enters the Calder Cup playoffs for the final time in its 13-year history, sporting two Cup championships in that time. Although the Phantoms have played HERSHEY more in regular season play than any other franchise, Thursday's playoff opener marks the first time since 2000 that the two clubs have met in the postseason. The BEARS defeated Philadelphia three games to two in the 2000 Mid-Atlantic Division semi-finals, with HERSHEY goaltender David Aebischer playing in all five postseason contests. The Chocolate and White is 2-1 all-time in playoff series against the Phantoms, also winning the 1997 Mid-Atlantic Division finals four games to three. Philadelphia defeated HERSHEY four games to one in the 1998 Mid-Atlantic Division finals, as the Phantoms proceeded to win the 1998 Calder Cup title.
The BEARS were 8-2-0-2 against the Phantoms in 2008-09, however it was Philadelphia that won the most recent meeting at the corner of Broad Street and Pattison Avenue last Friday in a 5-2 win. Six of the 12 games this season between the two teams were decided by one goal.
The Phantoms were trailing Binghamton by 12 points in the East Division standings with four games in hand on March 14 when they arrived in Albany to play the River Rats. The Phantoms won that night, starting a 17-game stretch in which they went 11-3-0-3. Over the same stretch, Binghamton posted a record of 5-7-0-1 in their 13 games that were remaining from that point. As a result, the Phantoms overtook the Senators on April 5 after a win over Norfolk. The Sens pulled even on April 8 with a thrilling overtime win over Syracuse, but the Phantoms clinched on April 10 with a 5-2 win over Hershey coupled with a 6-1 Binghamton loss to Norfolk.
HERSHEY is led into the postseason by Alexandre Giroux and Keith Aucoin, the two leading scorers in the American Hockey League this season. The one-two finish marked the first time since 1968-69 that two HERSHEY players ranked one-two in the league in the scoring race. Giroux edged Aucoin for the scoring title, although Aucoin led the league all but the final eight days of 2008-09. Giroux was named the AHL's most valuable player last week after scoring 60 goals during the campaign. He became just the fifth player in league history to score 60 or more goals in a single season, and the first since Carolina's Brad Smyth scored 68 during 1995-96.
Thursday's Game 1 can be heard via the BEARS Radio Network (100.1 FM, 1490 AM, Sportsjuice.com, AHLLive.com) beginning with the pregame show at 6:45 p.m. John Walton has the call of the action from the Wachovia Spectrum. Game 2 will be held Saturday night at the Wachovia Spectrum at 7:05 p.m. prior to HERSHEY returning home for Game 3 next Wednesday. Tickets are on sale now for Games 3 and 4 of the East Division Semi-Finals between the BEARS and Phantoms. Call the GIANT Center box office for ticket information at (717) 534-3911.