Looking to maintain their recently reacquired and very slim lead over the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for the final playoff spot, the Hershey Bears faced a daunting week of two road games sandwiched around a Saturday evening game at Giant Center. With Friday’s game at Atlantic Division leading Wilkes-Barre/Scranton followed by a 7:00 contest Saturday after which the Bears would board bus for Bridgeport, Hershey needed focus and attention to details from every player in order to “win the week.” And while 3 of 6 points may be good enough elsewhere, it isn’t particularly helpful in the Atlantic Division this season.
Friday night in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Bears had the Penguins on the ropes, but could not hang on as Tom Kostopoulos tied the game later in the third period and a turnover by Jakub Vrana in overtime proved costly as Kevin Porter scored the game-winner and the only goal that did not come on a powerplay.
Hershey got on the board first when Travis Boyd sent the puck below the goal line to Paul Carey. Two Penguin defenders took away Carey’s passing lane, opening up a clear shooting line for the 1-0 lead.
The Penguins then got back-to-back power play goals in the second period after Darren Dietz and Chandler Stephenson were called for tripping and cross-checking minors respectively.
But Stephenson atoned for the miscue with a power play goal early in the third period. Liam O’Brien took the puck and skated behind the WBS goal, finding Stephenson open on the opposite side.
Minutes later, Christian Thomas scored his 17th goal of the season when he tapped in a rebound off of a Christian Djoos shot. The Bears were unable to hang on during a 5-on-3 later in the period though after Paul Carey (slashing) and Hubert Labrie (Roughing) were both sent to the penalty box.
The Bears were given an opportunity to secure two all-important standings points in overtime as the Penguins were called for having too many men on the ice, but Hershey was not able to capitalize and settled for one point after Vrana’s turnover led to the game-winning goal for WBS.
Vitek Vanecek stopped 32 of 36 shots in the loss for Hershey.
With Hartford in town Saturday, the Bears seized the opportunity to win in front of the home crowd with a 4-2 victory over the Wolf Pack.
Riley Barber, who returned to the line-up after missing 35 games due to injury, nearly scored a goal just minutes into the game with a shot that eventually was reviewed. It was one of at least three near-goals for the Bears in the early minutes of the first period with the Bears applying near-constant offensive pressure in the first 20 minutes.
That pressure paid off 7:57 into the period when Hartford goalie, Brandon Halverson went behind the net and played the puck along the boards right to Travis Boyd. Boyd quickly fired the puck into the net as Halverson was unable to get back into position.
Djoos then made it 2-0 Hershey as he took a Chris Bourque pass and backhanded it into the net with 1:49 left on the clock before intermission.
Hartford got on the board midway through the second period, but Carey scored his 16th goal of the season and second in as many nights to make it a two-goal game once again. Brad Malone, who was below the goal line, passed the puck to Stan Galiev who sent it across ice to Carey.
After an early goal for Hartford in the third, the sellout crowd got what they had hoped for in the early minutes of the game – a goal from Barber in his return.
With the Hartford net empty, Barber raced down the ice, collected the puck from behind the net, and wrapped it around for his fifth goal of the season with just 61 second left on the clock.
Parker Milner recorded the victory in net for Hershey by turning away 23 of 25 shots.
Fighting for the final playoff spot with Sound Tigers, the Bears jumped on the bus Saturday evening and headed to Bridgeport for a 3:00 match-up Sunday afternoon. Zach Sanford, who scored his first NHL goal Saturday night for the Capitals, hopped on a plane and met the team in Bridgeport.
Perhaps it was the wicked weekend schedule or perhaps it was the Sound Tigers trying to position themselves in the final spot. Regardless, the two-goal efforts of Sanford and Barber were not enough Sunday as the Sound Tigers scored three goals on Vanecek in the first and two more on Milner in the second en route to a 5-4 victory that moved Bridgeport back ahead of Hershey for the final playoff spot.
Bridgeport came out firing, literally, logging a total of 50 shots on net in the game, and limiting Hershey to just 26. The Sound Tigers connected on two of those shots early in the game for a 2-0 lead before Sanford got the first of his pair of goals on the afternoon.
But Bridgeport got one back before Riley Barber scored on the power play just before the end of the first period to cut Bridgeport’s lead to 3-2.
Early in the second period, Sanford tied the game with a power play goal, but the Sound Tigers recorded two more goals before Barber’s second power play goal late in the second.
The Sound Tigers then successfully kept Hershey off their game, allowing nine shots from the Bears in the third.
Vanecek started in net for Hershey, but was replaced by Milner after giving up 4 goals on 26 shots. Milner, who ended up with the loss, stopped 23 of 24 shots.
Hershey’s power play was 6 for 15 on the week. The penalty kill was 11 for 14.
The Bears continue their five-game road stretch with a double-header in Providence Friday and Saturday and another Sunday afternoon match-up in Bridgeport Sunday.
*NEW – NovaCaps Three Stars of the Week – check online for details later this week
- Zach Sanford – 2 goals, 0 assists (in 1 game)
- Riley Barber – 3 goals, 0 assists (in 2 games after missing 35 due to injury)
- Paul Carey – 2 goals, 1 assist
|#||Name||Games played||Goals||Assists||+/-||Shots||Pen Min.|
Vitek Vanecek 0-0-1 (OTL) – 55 saves on 62 shots
Parker Milner 1-1 – 46 saves on 49 shots
THREE STARS (opponent)
- Carey (Hartford)
- Djoos (Hartford)
- Malone (Hartford), Sanford (Bridgeport)
Dustin Gazley (lower body) – projected out until mid-February
Madison Bowey (lower body) – out indefinitely – projected April return
Nathan Walker (upper body) – 4-6 weeks
DEL – Joey Leah – Returned on loan to South Carolina – Feb. 7
DEL – Zach Sanford – Recalled from loan by Washington – Feb. 8
ADD – Zach Sanford – Returned on loan from Washington – Feb. 9
DEL – Zach Sanford – Recalled from loan by Washington – Feb. 10
DEL – Justin Agosta – Released from PTO – Feb. 10
ADD – Zach Sanford – Returned on loan from Washington – Feb. 11
By Julie Beidler
— Beids (@juliebeidler) February 11, 2017