The Hershey Bears and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins had the final opportunity Saturday night to make their final statements before post season play. Previous to Saturday’s matinée, the Pens and the Bears squared off for the final time in the W-B. In a high intensity game, the Bears escaped with their first win of the season at the Mohegan Sun Arena.
The very next night, in-game 78 out of 80 for Hershey, the Bears were doubled up on the scoreboard and fell 4-2. The top affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins scored four unanswered goals at the start to secure an early cushion on Hershey.
Going into Saturday it was announced that the Bears’ first round opponent would be the Charlotte Checkers. The Penguins, however, still have no pre-determined idea on who they will face in the opening round of the playoffs. Prior to Saturday’s game, the Norfolk Admirals and Binghamton Senators were still battling in terms of who will get the fourth seed, and face the Penguins.
It can be easily said by spectators, the game had a playoff atmosphere to it. The bitter teams right from the get-go threw the body around trying to find a thunderous hit.
There wouldn’t be a break in the scoreboard until the late 19:47 mark of the opening stanza. After great saves by the Pens’ John Curry on Hershey’s top forwards, David Marshall would tally for the W-B. Following a physical first half of the period, in the second half both teams set of a consistent offensive pressure. It would be Marshall picking up a juicy rebound on the doorstep and roofing it past Holtby for the frame’s lone tally.
Shots after 20 minutes were nearly even as both teams displayed an overall impressive amount of energy. In the second period, Wilkes-Barre’s energy would continue at its high pace. The Bears, on the other hand, were flat to start the middle stanza.
All four lines of the Bears looked to try to force play through the middle of the ice, and constantly try passing lanes the Pens would have owned. As a result, the Bears would turn pucks over and the Penguins would get scoring opportunities to break the game open.
First, 6:30 into the middle period, Brett Sterling scored on a point-blank shot in front of Holtby. A quick pass from Vitale behind the goal line would not allow Holtby to center himself with Sterling’s shot soon enough.
Thirty seconds later, Nick Petersen tallied and added to the Penguins’ lead. The Hershey sell out crowd grew silence as they were again watching the Penguins run away with a win from the Bears.
It would only go from bad to worse for Hershey as they were playing with the opposite amount of momentum they had in the opening 18 minutes of regulation. Bryan Lerg hit pay dirt on the Bears’ Braden Holtby, as he fired a wild slap shot from the blue line trying to dump the puck in behind the net. The puck quickly gazed the stick of a defender and deflected past Holtby.
The Bears offense would try to rebound late in middle frame, but netminder John Curry would deny the Bears of any scoring chance on net.
In a game where both teams didn’t have a lot to play for statistically, Hershey would come out of the locker room in the final 20 minutes to try to stop the bleeding. In doing so, they tried to get back to the physical and fast tempo game displayed in the first. After a back-and-forth period with equal opportunities, Andrew Gordon would break John Curry’s shutout bid late in regulation.
With 1:59 left, Andrew Gordon would but the lead to three goals. It would start a brief rally for Hershey, as only 31 seconds later Maxime Lacroix tallied to make it suddenly a close, two goal game. The phrase, “To little, to late” would come into play as the Bears ran out of time and fell to the Penguins 4-2 at Giant Center.
After the game, Head Coach Mark French commented on the first Penguins goal, late in the period, hurting the Bears’ momentum. “You talk about goals in the first five and last five minutes in each period, and those can be a huge momentum swing. Even though we had the better of 5-on-5 chances than power play opportunities in the first, those late goals can be a real momentum killer.”
After the defeat to Wilkes-Barre, the Bears record when trailing after one period dropped to 4-16-1-0.
The Hershey Bears close out the regular season tomorrow evening at 5 p.m. The Bears take on the Syracuse Crunch on Fan Appreciation Night for game 80 out of 80.