The Hershey Bears started a busy three-games-in-four days stretch – two of them on the road- with a 5-3 loss to Lehigh Valley on Wednesday, followed by a 2-1 victory over Binghamton on Friday, and then a 3-0 shutout of Lehigh Valley Saturday on Giant Center ice.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms ended Hershey’s three game winning streak on Wednesday with a 5-3 decision over the visiting Bears, who have a 20-7-2-0 record, with four games remaining in the AHL’s abbreviated schedule.
Hershey needed just 24 seconds to take a 1-0 lead, when Philippe Maillet scored from the low slot on the first shot of the contest. It was his fifth of the season, and it was set up by Matt Moulson and Brett Leason.
Four minutes later, Lehigh Valley responded with a pair of goals when Linus Hogberg intercepted a pass at the blue line and beat Hershey goalie Pheonix Copley with a wrist shot. Then at 7:07, the Phantoms claimed a 2-1 lead when Chris Mueller, parked at the edge of the crease, directed the puck past Copley.
Hershey countered on the power play at 16:33 of the period, with Damien Riat scoring for the first time since March 14. Brett Leason fed Riat in the left circle and he unloaded a one-timer that beat Lehigh Valley goalie Felix Sandstrom to tie the game at 2-2.
In the middle stanza, the two clubs traded goals, with Lehigh Valley’s Tyson Foerster scoring his 10th of the season at 2:02, by deflecting a Cameron York shot on the power play past Copley’s blocker, for a 3-2 Phantoms edge.
Axel Jonsson-Fjallby’s ninth goal of the season at 17:54 tied it again at 3-3. Coming off the bench, Jonsson-Fjallby worked a give-and-go with Connor McMichael and headed in on a breakaway. His initial shot was stopped by Sandstrom. but he grabbed the rebound and pushed it past the outstretched goalie.
The Phantoms pulled away in the third period thanks to two Foerster assists. First, he connected with York on a breakaway while on a power play at 8:00, for the eventual game-winning goal. Foerster then set up a back-door feed to Cal O’Reilly at 14:10, to make it a 5-3 final for the Phantoms.
Hershey outshot Lehigh Valley 37-19 in the loss. The Bears were 1-for-4 on the power play while the Phantoms were 2-for-3.
The Bears won their final road game of the season on Friday, edging the Binghamton Devils 2-1, with goaltender Hunter Shepard stopping 31 shots to claim his second straight win, while lowering his goals against average to 0.50.
The win moved the Bears to 10-1-0-0 versus the Devils this season, and improved their record to 21-7-2-0 for the season.
The opening period was scoreless, then the Bears scored both of their goals in the middle stanza, and that would be all they would need.
After Joe Snively was stopped by Binghamton goaltender Gilles Senn, Matt Moulson tapped the rebound over the goal line to give the Bears the lead at 13.48. Eddie Wittchow had the other assist.
On the power play at 17:30 of the period, Connor McMichael scored his 12th goal of the season. He fired the puck from the right circle, and it deflected off Senn’s stick and ricocheted into the net to make it 2-0. Alex Alexeyev and Philippe Maillet assisted on the goal.
Binghamton had its best opportunity to get on the scoreboard late in the period when they had an extended 5-on-3 man advantage but were unable get anything past Shepard.
The Devils finally solved Shepard at 13:50 of the third period when Reilly Walsh’s shot from the right point beat a screened Shepard to make it 2-1.
The goal ended Shepard’s shutout streak at 113.50 minutes, and raised his goals against average to 0.50, in his first two AHL and Hershey games.
The Bears held on to earn the victory despite being outshot 32-25. Hershey’s penalty kill enjoyed a strong night, going 5-for-5, while the Bears went 1-for-2 on the power play.
Hershey’s record on the road finishes up at 10-6-0-0. The Bears have three games remaining, all on home ice, and the club’s magic number to clinch the North Division is now five.
The New Jersey Devils have announced that next year they will be moving their AHL club from Binghamton to Utica, so this game may have also been Hershey’s last ever road game versus a Binghamton franchise. The Bears have a long history of playing Binghamton-based teams, including the Broome Dusters (1977-80), Binghamton Whalers (1980-90), Binghamton Rangers (1990-97), Binghamton Senators (2002-2017), and Binghamton Devils (2017-present).
In Saturday’s 3-0 win over Lehigh Valley, it was the Bears’ eighth straight victory on home ice, and it moved their magic number to clinch the North Division to just one. Goaltender Pheonix Copley stopped all 34 shots he faced, earning his 100th American Hockey League win.
Hershey needed just 3:17 to take a 1-0 lead on Axel Jonsson-Fjallby’s 10th goal of the season. He sent a soft shot toward Zane McInytre that the Lehigh Vallley goaltender stopped, but the carom bounced off the skate of Phantoms’ Derrick Pouliot’s skate and into the net.
In the second period, Joe Snively scored his sixth goal of the season for Hershey at 12:21 on a shot from the slot. Both Philippe Maillet and Matt Moulson collected milestone helpers on the goal. For Maillet, the assist was his 100th in the AHL, while Moulson registered his 700th career professional point.
Copley made the save of the game in the middle stanza when Tyson Foerster came out of the penalty box, grabbed the puck at center ice and skated in alone, before being denied to keep the Phantoms scoreless.
Bears’ coach Spencer Carbery had nothing but high praise for Copley and the way he has handled himself in his attempt to get back to the NHL, saying, “He is the most mentally tough and strong athlete I’ve ever coached, and I’ve never heard him say one negative thing about his situation that gives him a very legitimate argument considering what he has done in this league.
“He just comes to work every single day to improve,” added Carbery, “and then goes out and shows that in his games. Mental toughness is Pheonix Copley.”
Hershey secured the win with an empty-net goal at 16:40 of the third period, as Maillet connected for his sixth of the season, and Moulson picked up another assist.
The shutout was Copley’s second of the season and the 13th of his AHL career.
The Phantoms outshot the Bears 34-27 in the loss. Both teams were 0-for-2 on the power play.
The Bears are idle until Saturday at Giant Center, when they host the Binghamton Devils at 1 p.m., and then take on Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Sunday at 3 p.m. in the season finale.
Hershey finished the season series 5-4-2-0 versus Lehigh Valley.
The win was Copley’s 70th in a Hershey uniform, one less than Vitek Vanecek and Phil Sauve. His 9th shutout is one less than Peter Budaj and his 129 games played is two less than Marc D’Amour.