With the playoffs upon us, all teams still in contention push themselves to earn every point possible during the stretch run. Many times winning or losing a game can determine whether you earn home ice advantage for a first round matchup or possibly throughout the playoffs. The Bears and Checkers faced off for only the second time at Giant Center since the Checkers eliminated Hershey in the first round of the Eastern Conference finals last year.
The Hershey Bears defeated the Charlotte Checkers 3-2 Sunday night, behind a Garrett Mitchell shootout winning goal that helped the Bears collect their sixth straight victory. Dany Sabourin was strong in net once again, stopping 35 of 37 shots he faced during regulation and overtime, and only allowed two goals in the shootout to secure the victory for Hershey. Boyd Kane added two assists on the night, helping set up goals by Ryan Potulny and Cody Eakin during the second period.
The first period lacked for any goals, but the Charlotte Checkers established a solid offensive presence in the Bears zone. The Checkers had plenty of quality scoring chances in the period, but could not get any shots past Bears goalie, Dany Sabourin. Two goals were waved off in the period due to early whistles from the officials.
Hershey earned their fair share of power play time in the first period, but were unable to generate a goal during their two attempts with the man advantage. Charlotte outshot the Bears 14-9 in the period, but were unable to convert on their three power play opportunities. Danny Sabourin made some big saves in the first frame, as the Bears’ escaped the first stanza with zero goals allowed. Coach French said Sabourin was crucial in keeping the score close early. “He was huge a number of times, especially early and really throughout the game. He’s found a real good mental groove for himself and he’s riding a nice wave of momentum right now.”
The Bears started a parade to the penalty box early in the second period, allowing two power play goals during a span of over two minutes. Checkers forward, Justin Shugg netted his fifth goal on the season, set up by defenseman Bobby Sanguinetti. Less than two minutes later following a Mike Carman slashing penalty, forward Zac Dalpe potted his 17th goal on the season on a great pass by Bobby Sanguinetti, his second assist on the night.
Hershey added an edge to their game after Bear’s coach, Mark French took a timeout following the Checkers 2nd goal. French was visibly unhappy with his team’s performance and compete level at that point during the game. When asked what French said to the team during the timeout he responded: “Not much. Just the fact we played poorly the night before and it was this time in the previous night where we started to change the momentum.” The Bears quickly responded after the timeout scoring a power play goal as forward Ryan Potulny collected his 26th goal of the year, making him the team leader in goals scored. Hershey was back at it again as Cody Eakin potted his 13th goal of the season on a shot in close following a blocked pass intended for Chris Bourque on a two on one scoring opportunity. Boyd Kane helped set up the play with a pass to Eakin, knotting the game at two.
The Checkers and Bears entered the third period with the game tied at two, but neither side could grab control of the game. Neither team committed a penalty during the third frame, something you almost never see in hockey today. During the last half of the period it seemed both teams were content with gaining at least one point in the standings, sending the game to overtime.
The overtime period featured better scoring chances than the third period, but neither team could find twine. A scoreless overtime frame forced a shootout in which one shot or save would decide the game. Both teams’ shooters were stopped in the first round as Ryan Potulny could not even generate a shot on goal. In the second round Jerome Samson scored for Charlotte, but Cody Eakin answered the bell firing a slap shot past Checker’s goalie, Justin Peters. The third and fourth rounds in the shootout were the same as the first and second with each team earning a goal heading into the 5th round. Sabourin stopped Charlotte forward, Zac Dalpe giving Garrett Mitchell an opportunity to win it for the Bears. Mitchell was up to the task getting the puck barely past Peters as it trickled toward the back of the net. Mitchell’s goal ended the shootout and the game, with Hershey earning the victory by a 3-2 count.
Patrick McNeil was an injury scratch in tonight’s game with an upper body injury. Coach French updated his status following the Bears win. “He’ll be day to day with an upper body injury moving forward, we’ll see where he is for Wednesday”.
Coach French was pleased with Zach Miskovic’s performance filling in on defense, providing the club with some good minutes at the blue line. “Zach Miskovic gave us some really good minutes”. The Bear’s don’t have an outstanding veteran defenseman, but the team is functioning well as a single unit. French added, “right now there not really defined by any individual names back there, but their doing the job as a six man core.”
Below are video highlights courtesy of the Hershey Bears.