The Hershey Bears entered Wednesday’s duel against the Penguins with a 9-2 record in the freezing month of December along with a 12-4-3 season long record against the East Division. Three of the four regulation losses against the East came when the Bears battled their I-81 rivals from Wilkes-Barre Township.
The night before Wednesday’s matchup, both teams faced one-another at the Mohegan Sun Arena. Hershey tallied three goals in both the first and final stanza en route to a strong 6-0 victory. As the game went on, the two teams showed their hatred against each other with plenty of after the whistle, extra-curricular activity. Penguins’ radio play-by-play guy, Tom Grace in his Tuesday radio broadcast stated “It appears there are some prom dates being made on the ice for tomorrow night between players.”
The next night at Giant Center, there was zero amount of fights, but both teams combined for ten regulation goals with five on the power-play. With the score knotted at 5-5 after 65 minutes of play, Geoff Walker scored in the bottom half on the ninth round of a long shootout to down Hershey, 6-5.
After an eventless opening 20 minutes, the Pens carried a 10-6 shots advantage into intermission. Wilkes-Barre did a better job compared to the night before clogging Hershey’s passing lanes in their defensive end. The Bears were forced to play a dump and chase game throughout the stanza since they couldn’t connect any long outlet passes through the neutral zone and into the offensive end. The majority of Hershey’s six shots on net came from a sharp-angle along the half-boards.
Into the middle frame, both teams would hit pay-dirt via the man-advantage as they exploded for a combined six goals. The Pens tallied a power-play, shorthanded and even-strength goal in the period. The Bears, in the frame went 2-for-2 on the power-play and tallied a 4-on-4 goal.
The wild scoring affair began with the Penguins only 81 seconds into the stanza tallying on the power-play. Eric Tangradi deflected an Alex Grant shot from the point to ice his 11th goal of the season. The Giant Center crowd remained quiet until the 10:49 mark, when Graham Mink on the Bears’ first man-advantage of the game knotted the duel a 1-1. It was Mink’s 12th goal of the season and 10th being on the power-play, leading the lead in PPG’s.
3:08 later, Cody Eakin scored his fourth goal in three games after his return from the NHL to give Hershey their first lead of the night. On a 4-on-4, a wide open Eakin was connected with a pass from Boyd Kane from behind the net. Eakin launched a one-timer beating Scott Munroe over his shoulder.
The Bears lead lasted only 1:05, as right off an offensive zone face-off Geoff Walker slipped a soft shot through the five-hole that surprised a frozen Dany Sabourin. Minutes later, on a shorthanded rush Zach Sill fired a similar shot on Sabourin that he again yielded through the legs.
After the shorthanded strike, Hershey still had just over 30 seconds of power-play time in the final minute of the period. It set the stage for Tomas Kundratek to ring a shot of the goal-post and in past a beaten Munroe. With 22 seconds left in a period full of goals, the Bears again tied the game, 3-3.
They finished the game 4-for-5 on the power-play adding two more goals via the man-advantage in the third period to take a two-goal lead. Wilkes-Barre, as many would expect did not fold up and rallied to tie the game with 1:53 left in regulation. Nick Petersen wrapped around the cage and threw an ugly bank shot off the back of former Pens’ netminder, Dany Sabourin and into the net.
With all the momentum in hand, the Penguins out shot the Bears 7-0 in the five minute sudden-death overtime period but failed to tally. One with logic would think the shootout would be filled with scoring since the teams combined for ten goals. However in the skills competition, Geoff Walker had to wait to a round nine to get his first shootout attempt of the season. Walker, for the W-B shoved a backhander over Dany Sabourin to win the game for the Penguins, taking one point out of four in a home-and-home stretch against Hershey.
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins now hold a nine-game winning streak on Giant Center ice against the Bears that dates back to last season. Exiting the game, the Bears still have loan possession of first place in the East Division with a three point lead over both the Pens and Norfolk.
On New Years Eve the Hershey Bears square off against the Norfolk Admirals at Giant Center to close out an entertaining 2011 calendar year.
The puck drops at an early 6 p.m. start time.