Behind three goals from Marek Hrivik, the Hartford Wolf Pack clinched a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2004 with a 6-3 win over the Hershey Bears on Friday night.
The Wolf Pack took the series, four games to two, and advance to face the top-seeded Manchester Monarchs beginning Thursday for the right to play for the Calder Cup.
Hartford fell behind early, allowing the first goal of the game for the fourth time in the series. On his first shift since returning to the Bears, Andre Burakovsky opened the scoring 1:24 into Game 6. Burakovsky, who had two goals and an assist in 11 Stanley Cup Playoff games with Washington this spring, took a pass from Chris Conner, skated up the right wing and rifled a shot that beat Yann Danis high to the glove side.
Hartford tied it up at 9:02 when a dump-in by Brady Skjei ricocheted off the end boards and came in front to Hrivik, who whacked it home for his first goal of the playoffs.
The Wolf Pack had a 16-7 advantage in shots on goal during the first period, then took the lead 1:26 into the second on Hrivik’s second goal of the night, a wraparound attempt that banked in off Grubauer.
The Bears tied it at 2-2 with their fourth shorthanded goal of the series, a Dustin Gazley tally off a feed from Kris Newbury at 5:39.
But Hartford answered just over three minutes later when defenseman Michael Kostka pinched in from the point and fired a shot from the between the circles off a pass from Oscar Lindberg, and then followed up by tucking the rebound past Grubauer at the 9:00 mark.
A terrific individual effort by Lindberg set up the Wolf Pack’s fourth goal of the night at 16:37 of the second. Lindberg fought through a Hershey check, brought the puck deep into the offensive zone, circled back and found Joey Crabb, who fired home his fourth goal of the series — and the third shorthanded goal by Hartford — to make it 4-2.
Nathan Schmidt pulled the Bears back within one with 7:16 to play, spinning away from a Hartford pursuer at the offensive blue line, moving down the slot and ripping a shot home past Yann Danis for his fourth goal and team-high ninth point of the postseason.
But just 90 seconds later, Carl Klingberg took a drop pass from Ryan Haggerty and potted his second goal of the playoffs to make it 5-3 Hartford.
The Bears pulled Grubauer for an extra attacker with just under three minutes remaining, but could not draw any closer. With 35.5 seconds left, Chris Bourque negated an icing and centered the puck to Hrivik, who completed the hat trick and sealed the win.
Danis (7-4) made 23 saves in the win, while Grubauer (2-4) stopped 31 of 36 shots in defeat. Both teams were 0-for-3 on the power play with a shorthanded goal in the game.
Hartford, the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference, has not reached the conference finals since a seven-game loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in 2004. They will be looking for their first trip to the Calder Cup Finals since their championship season of 1999-2000.
Eastern Conference Semifinals – Series “J” (best-of-7)
2-Hershey Bears vs. 3-Hartford Wolf Pack
Game 1 – Wed., May 6 – Hartford 2, HERSHEY 1 (OT)
Game 2 – Fri., May 8 – HERSHEY 6, Hartford 4
Game 3 – Sun., May 10 – Hershey 2, HARTFORD 1 (W)
Game 4 – Mon., May 11 – HARTFORD 3, Hershey 1 (W)
Game 5 – Wed., May 13 – Hartford 5, HERSHEY 4 (OT)
Game 6 – Fri., May 15 – HARTFORD 6, Hershey 3