WILKES-BARRE TWP. — The last two regular season games this weekend might not mean much for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as far as standings are concerned, but one contest will offer a preview of their first round playoff opponent.
The Penguins play the Hershey Bears on Friday and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Saturday — both at home. Entering Friday, Hershey leads Bridgeport slightly in points percentage for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. With a lock on first place, the Penguins will play whichever team claims the fourth spot.
“These games are important to get ready for the playoffs. We’re not going to treat them any differently,” said head coach Clark Donatelli.
Regardless of which team the Penguins play, they’ve had plenty of success against both. They enter Friday’s game with a 8-3-0-0 season series advantage against Hershey, and four of those wins have come in overtime.
Against Bridgeport, the Penguins are 4-0-1-0 and have outscored the Sound Tigers 18-8.
Whichever team the Penguins play, they’ll likely do it with Casey DeSmith in net as Tristan Jarry is in Pittsburgh backing up Marc-Andre Fleury. It’s a similar situation to what happened last postseason when Matt Murray went down with an injury and Jarry spent time with Pittsburgh as an emergency backup, leaving DeSmith to handle the playoff games in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
DeSmith’s play in last year’s playoffs proved the Penguins have nothing to worry about with him in net for the postseason. DeSmith guided the Penguins to a first round series win over Providence and posted a 5-4 record, 2.44 GAA and a .919 save percentage.
“He was solid against Providence and he’s been good all year here in the regular season,” Donatelli said.
DeSmith couldn’t help but touch on the similarities between this season and last when he took over down the stretch and into the playoffs while Jarry was absent.
But first, he said, the focus remains on the final two games this weekend.
While home ice and a playoff spot are both locked up, DeSmith said it’s important to finish the season on a high note.
“We want to go strong into the playoffs. We want to be playing solid and smart,” DeSmith said. “Playoff hockey is a grind. It’s physical, tight and not a lot of offense. We need to use this weekend to get into that mindset of playing defensive hockey.”
Still, captain Tom Kostopoulos said there is one more thing the Penguins can achieve to close out the regular season.
“We’re still trying to win first place overall in the league, so we want to take care of our games,” he said.