After Hershey experienced turbulence in January, they had no intention of watching idly as their season slipped away.
Neither did the Washington Capitals, their NHL parent team for the past 12 seasons.
Hershey coach Troy Mann needed goaltending help and defensive depth. Top defense prospect Madison Bowey injured his ankle Dec. 28 which left the lineup shorthanded. An 18-6-5-2 start turned with a 1-7-2-0 slump.
Goaltender Braden Holtby and defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson are among the players who have gone from Hershey to key components for the Capitals since the affiliation began in 2005, and the Capitals have helped Hershey win the Calder Cup three times.
The Capitals came through again this season. Defenseman Tom Gilbert was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 15 and assigned to Hershey that day. Gilbert has played 655 NHL regular-season games.
"I can't speak enough to what [Gilbert] has brought," Mann said. "A very quiet leader. Not a real rah-rah guy but well respected, competes and wants to win. I think [he] is a great learning tool for our young defensemen."
Then the Capitals acquired goaltender Pheonix Copley, along with defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, in a trade with the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 27.
The trade came just time for Hershey. Even with a 10-3-0-0 record in March, five consecutive wins to close the regular season, and 97 points in the standings, Hershey did not clinch a playoff berth until the second-to-last day of the regular season.
Copley went 11-5-0 with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage in 16 games with Hershey. Gilbert had 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 25 games with Hershey.
Now Hershey is one win away from eliminating Lehigh Valley, the Philadelphia Flyers' AHL team, and earning a spot in the second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.
"I love the Washington model," Mann said. "You can win by developing and develop by winning.
"There is pressure here to win hockey games."
Lehigh Valley was tied with Chicago (St. Louis Blues) for second in the AHL with 101 points, six points behind first place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pittsburgh Penguins) but will face elimination Wednesday in Game 3 of the best-of-5 series. After a Game 1 overtime win, Hershey rallied from a 4-2 third-period deficit for a 5-4 win in Game 2.
Lehigh Valley will turn to third-string goaltender Martin Ouellette with their regular-season tandem of Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon each injured.
Here is a breakdown of each of the other AHL playoff series:
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (1) vs. Providence (4)
After a 2-1 Providence win in Game 1 win, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton gave up a 3-0 lead in Game 2 before winning 6-5 in overtime. The series moves to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for Game 3 on Thursday. Providence has defenseman Tommy Cross, its captain, and forward Sean Kuraly back from the Boston Bruins.
Syracuse (1) vs. St. John's (4)
Syracuse (Tampa Bay Lightning) will have home-ice advantage for the final three games of the best-of-5 series, which is tied 1-1. St. John's has added forward Michael McCarron from the Montreal Canadiens. Goaltender Mike McKenna has a .919 save percentage in two games and led Syracuse to a 4-3 double-overtime win in Game 2 with 38 saves. His St. John's counterpart, Charlie Lindgren, has a .937 save percentage in two games.
Toronto (2) vs. Albany (3)
Toronto forward Kasperi Kapanen is back from the Toronto Maple Leafs. After being shut out 3-0 in Game 1 at Albany, Toronto won 6-2 in Game 2. Albany (New Jersey Devils) goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood had a 27-save shutout in Game 1 but was pulled in the second period of Game 2 after allowing four goals. The teams resume play Wednesday.
Chicago (1) vs. Charlotte (4)
Facing elimination at home in Game 4, Chicago won 5-1 win to set up the series-deciding Game 5 at home Wednesday. Charlotte (Carolina Hurricanes) forward Lucas Wallmark leads the AHL with six points (three goals, three assists) in four games.
Grand Rapids (2) vs. Milwaukee (3)
Grand Rapids (Detroit Red Wings) can finish a sweep with a win in Game 3 at Milwaukee (Nashville Predators) on Wednesday. The well-balanced Grand Rapids offense has nine goals in the first two games.
San Jose (1) vs. Stockton (4)
Western Conference regular-season champion San Jose (San Jose Sharks) won Game 1 at home in a 4-0 shutout keyed by goaltender Troy Grosenick. Stockton responded with a 6-4 win in Game 2 that included four first-period goals against Grosenick. Game 3 is Friday at Stockton (Calgary Flames).
San Diego (2) vs Ontario (3)
The series is in the midst of a six-day break between a 2-1 win in Game 2 by San Diego (Anaheim Ducks) at Ontario (Los Angeles Kings) on Saturday and Game 3 on Friday in San Diego Ontario forward Jonny Brodzinski scored his second goal of the game with 11.7 seconds to go in Game 1 for a 3-2 win. Nick Sorensen scored twice for San Diego in its Game 2 win to even the series 1-1.