Wednesday evening the weather outside was nothing less than frightful, but the Giant Center ice was delightful for the Hershey Bears, who scored three goals in the second frame to beat Syracuse, 5-2.
The Bears entered Wednesday’s game in a position to take sole possession of first in the East Division through Christmas break. They battled the Crunch in whom they beat twice in the previous three meetings. Hershey opened their month of December with a 4-1 win over the Crunch in Syracuse on December 2. After their fourth duel of the season against Syracuse on Wednesday, the Bears ride off into Christmas with an 8-2 record during December, being their best month so far after 30 games of the 2011-12 season.
Going into the matchup, the Bears received an early Christmas present in having forward Kyle Greentree back in the lineup after missing 25 games with a upper-body injury. Greentree was injured in a game on October 15, against Norfolk.
1:39 into the game, similar to the Bears’ previous game on Sunday, scored first against the opposition early. Matt Ford entered the zone on an even-man rush and fired a wrist shot from the near-side faceoff circle past Iiro Tarkki on Hershey’s second shot of the game.
Midway through the frame, Syracuse was given a grade-A opportunity to tally their first strike, as Keith Aucoin and Boyd Kane were both sent to the box for minors 49 seconds apart. On the rebound of a Peter Holland shot, Patrick Maroon slapped a loose puck into a wide-open net past a beaten Sabourin, after making several athletic saves on the 5-on-3.
It was the lone tally in the period for Syracuse against the Bears’ netminder. The goal was the first shot Sabourin yielded on Giant Center ice since December 3, against Portland. Iiro Tarkki on the opposite end of the rink made outstanding saves late in the period while even-strength to keep the game tied. Keith Aucoin and Chris Bourque enjoyed several looks at the net in high goal-scoring areas, only to be denied by Tarkii.
Shots after one period were 14-11 in favor of Hershey. 6 of Syracuse’s 11 shots came on their two power-plays. They entered Wednesday with the second best power-play in the AHL.
Into the middle frame, similar to the first period, the Bears tallied first and early. Only 21 seconds into the period, Cody Eakin broke into the offensive zone on a 2-on-1 and backhanded a soft shot surprising Tarkii. The Bears carried a 2-1 lead up to the 13:15 mark, when Keith Aucoin was sent to the box for a double-minor high sticking infraction. During the man-advantage, the games’ turning point occurred in Hershey’s favor.
With 30 seconds left on the lengthy power-play chance, Peter Holland at the point blew a tire and lost his footing. Shorthanded, Hershey stormed the zone on a 3-on-1 rush. Ryan Potulny fed Patrick McNeil a crisp pass that was soon one-timed into the back of the net. A golden opportunity to tie the game for Syracuse turned into a momentum killer. The tally occurred with only 3:21 left in the period.
As expected, the Bears ran with all the momentum in hand, as they began to put relentless pressure on the Crunch back-stop. 1:21 later, Kyle Greentree in his return from a long injury potted his second goal of the season. Danny Richmond entered the zone at center-point and moved in deep, forcing Tarkii out of his net. Richmond slid a back-door pass to Greentree who tapped it into a vacated net to stretch the lead to a commanding three goals.
The Crunch outshot the Bears in the stanza, 16-11, but were down by a large margin with only 20 minutes to play.
It is extremely rare for a goalie to give up two goals, but obtain first-star honors. The Crunch, into the third period fired 13 more shots on Sabourin and hit pay-dirt only once. He stopped a game total of 38 shots out of 40. In his last two home games in net, he has stopped 70 of his last 72 shots.
Syracuse tallied 2:38 into the period to cut the Hershey lead to a slim two goals and make things a bit more interesting. The Bears added a much needed insurance goal with 10:17 remaining, courtesy of Julien Brouillette. On the power-play he banked a shot from behind the goal-line, off a defenders back in the blue-paint, and into the back of the net.
The Hershey Bears escaped with a 5-2 win over the Syracuse Crunch to ride into Christmas break with sole possession of first place in hand.
They next hit the ice on Tuesday, December 27. They travel up I-81 to battle the division rival, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
Game time is at 7:05 p.m. at the Mohegan Sun Arena.