Only seven games remained for the Hershey Bears going into Saturday night’s game against the Albany Devils.
Looking to rebound back from a tough 2-1 loss in Adirondack the night before, the Bears beat the Devils 7-4 at home in front of a sell out crowd of 10,804. Boyd Kane potted two goals for Hershey in their winning effort, despite an in game 59 minute delay due to ice conditions.
With the Calder Cup playoffs a few weeks away, the only thing the Bears are fighting for now is home ice. Hershey looks to hang on to second place in the East with its final game scheduled for April 10.
In attempt to grab home ice from the Bears are the Charlotte Checkers and the Norfolk Admirals. The Checkers stand only four points out from Hershey with zero battles left against them this season. The Admirals, on the other hand, have two more games on hand against Hershey before the season expires.
In the first five minutes of Saturday’s game, both teams already combined for 10 shots on net. With both teams getting many shots on net early with relentless pressure, sure enough a shot would soon go in.
Just 5:29 into the contest, Albany struck first when David McIntyre fired a quick slap shot through the five hole of Nolan Schaefer to give the Devils an early 1-0 lead. Seven minutes later, the Bears responded when Keith Aucoin slid the puck past Albany goalie Jeff Frazee to tie the game at 1-1.
Approaching the end of the period, the Bears faced a 5-on-3 power play and a golden opportunity to take the lead on Albany. Following a countless amount of short passes, Andrew Gordon tipped a quick pass into the net from Aucoin — who registered his 700th career AHL point — past Frazee to give the Bears the one-goal lead.
It appeared to be an offense dominating night, as the Bears out shot Albany 19-12 after 20 minutes. However, the middle stanza featured a much tamed tempo to start compared to the opening period. Although the time of possession for both teams continued to climb in the offensive end, the pace and speed of the game slowed down considerably.
Just passed the midway mark of regulation, the Devils would struck again to tie things up when Brad Mills tipped in a perfect pass from Adam Henrique on a quick give and go play. Albany gained some momentum following the shorthanded tally and started to speed up the games’ tempo back to the level it originally was. With 1:40 remaining in the period, Ryan Ginard scored on a tip from an Andy Thomas shot at the right point to give the Devils a 3-2 lead.
The Bears, however, didn’t go into the locker room quietly. Hershey was set up in the offensive end on the power play with 20 seconds remaining, when Bears’ coach Mark French made an extremely risky decision to pull his goaltender for an extra forward. But before Schaefer made his way to the bench, Dmitri Orlov unleashed a bullet from the blue line, past a crowded Frazee to tie the game at 3-3 with 16 seconds left in the middle stanza.
There was choppiness all game between the two teams with a lot of pushing and shoving, until the start of the third period where it would escalate to a brawl. Brian Willsie scored just 4:01 into the period on a soft shot past Frazee to give the Bears a 4-3 lead.
During the goal celebration, la line brawl broke out between the two teams to empty out frustrations resulting in another 5-on-3 power play for Hershey. However, unlike the first attempt, the Bears couldn’t capitalize and extend the lead to two.
Albany managed to again answer back following the Bears’ blown opportunity when Steve Zalewski scored on a scrum in front of the net to tie the game at 7:06.
If the game wasn’t already controversial with the two teams having hate for one another, the game was delayed and handed an extra 10-minute intermission following the fourth Albany goal to repair ice issues when there appeared to be a huge divot on the ice near the blue line. After a lengthy 59 minute delay, play resumed at Giant Center where both teams seemingly started a brand new game.
With 8:41 left in the third, Kane gave the Bears the lead for good and Hershey rolled with momentum the rest of the way. Kane Maxime Lacroix added a couple of goals late in the period to seal the 7-4 victory for Hershey, who clinched a playoff spot and improved to 43-24-2-5 with the win.