The Hershey Bears again took a 2-0 lead but this time, unlike two previous games, scored three third-period goals to end a brief two-game losing streak with a 5-3 win Sunday over the visiting Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
The Bears reclaimed sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division with 70 points, over the idle Hartford Wolfpack who have 68 points but have two games in hand.
A near-sellout crowd of 10,437 watched the Bears score the first period’s only goal against the Phantoms goaltender J.F. Berube at 5:35. Liam O’Brien controlled a loose puck just outside the blue paint and chipped it into the cage for his 10th goal of the season.
“We need to handle the momentum better in the second period after getting the early lead like we have done recently, but overall we came together in the third and finished strong,” O’Brien said about the team’s overall effort. “We had a couple of chances that we didn’t execute on but once again we were able to find a way to win.”
In the second period, the Chocolate and White managed just three shots but connected on their initial one. Hershey started with a power-play after Isaac Ratcliffe was called for elbowing at 19:52 in the first period.
Christian Djoos whipped a shot from the blue line that eluded Berube at 1:26 to make it 2-0. Setting up the play were Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and Brett Leason.
That lead disappeared at 8:11 when Morgan Frost got a lucky bounce off the glass behind Pheonix Copley to beat him high to the glove-side then Lehigh Valley tied the game on Maksim Sushko’s 10th goal at 18:21. Shots after 40 minutes had the Phantoms outshooting the Bears 20-10.
Copley kept his team in the tilt until Bobby Nardella scored a highlight-reel goal at 8:50 to put Hershey up 3-2. The rookie defenseman faked a shot from the left side then circled the cage to come around and beat Berube to the short side that regained Hershey’s one-goal advantage.
“That was a beautiful thing, that’s all you can say about what he did,” O’Brien said with a big smile. “I don’t think I have that move but maybe he could teach it to me at practice.”
Beck Malenstyn’s seventh of the year became the eventual game-winning goal at 16:03. Jonsson-Fjallby and Nardella had the helpers.
Lehigh Valley pulled Berube for an extra attacker with over two minutes remaining and Andy Andreoff brought the Phantoms to within a tying goal at 18:14 then Brian Pinho cemented the win with an empty-net goal at 19:49 for the 5-3 final.
“We needed to make sure we got this win tonight and we all knew that going into the third period,” O’Brien said. “We have an easier week coming up with just two games but they’re both on the road so we need to get a little rest then get back to work to try and get a couple more road wins.”
BEARS STATS: Copley (17-6-5) made 26 saves for his 60th Hershey win. The 17th win ties his 2014-15 rookie season win total in Hershey.
Hershey’s overall record improved to 32-16-3-3 and is now 8-1-1-0 in 10 meetings with Lehigh Valley this season.
The Chocolate and White have enjoyed great success (12-1-1-0) on Sundays this season. On home ice, the Bears have been nearly perfect on Sundays, going 10-0-1-0 at the Giant Center and have defeated the Phantoms four times on a Sunday this season.
Hershey has scored the first goal in six straight games. The Bears record in those contests stands at 4-1-1-0. Overall this season, the Bears have scored the first goal 30 times and are 23-5-1-1 when striking first.