The Hershey Bears started this past weekend with a shootout loss in Rochester on Friday, then rebounded on Saturday with a 4-1 win in Syracuse before concluding their three-games-in-three-days stretch with another 4-3 shootout loss to the visiting Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Sunday at Giant Center.
On Friday, Hershey (37-16-5-3) enjoyed a 3-0 lead by the early stages of the second period, but the Rochester Americans (29-25-4-3) rallied with three goals of their own, and Hershey ended up on the short end of 4-3 shootout loss at Blue Cross Arena.
That point did reduce Hershey’s magic number to secure a playoff berth to three points.
The Bears needed just 29 seconds to take a 1-0 lead when Mike Vecchione slammed the puck off the leg pad of goaltender Malcom Subban for his 21st of the season. Mike Sgarbossa and Ethen Frank picked up assists on the goal.
Sam Anas put Hershey up 2-0 at 4:47 when he grabbed a Dylan McIlrath rebound that slid into the slot for his ninth of the season, with Joe Snively earning a secondary helper.
Hershey extended its lead to 3-0 at 1:35 of the second stanza when Aaron Ness sent the puck behind the Rochester net to Snively, who skated out at the right post and dished it across the crease to Connor McMichael, who beat Subban for his 15th of the season that extended his point streak to six games (3g, 3a).
The Amerks managed to get on the board less than two minutes later, when Joseph Cecconi beat Zach Fucale to make the score 3-1. and then closed the deficit at 12:03 when Brett Murray snapped a one-touch pass past Bears’ goalie Fucale to make it a 3-2 tilt.
Murray scored again at 18:30 with the Americans on the power play to pull Rochester even and remain tied through regulation and overtime.
Mason Jobst scored in the first round of the skills competition, and Aleksandr Kisakov netted the shootout-deciding goal in the third round, while Subban turned aside McMichael and Snively efforts.
Shots finished 33-27 in favor of the Americans. The Bears were 0-for-2 on the power play; the Americans finished 1-for-2 with the man advantage.
Hershey’s fastest goal to start a game came Dec. 31, 2007, when Grant Potulny scored against the Philadelphia Phantoms.
On Saturday night, the Bears (38-16-5-3) clinched their 70th playoff berth in franchise history with a 4-1 victory over the Syracuse Crunch (30-24-5-3) at Upstate Medical University Arena.
Hershey needed a win of any kind to claim a spot in the 2023 Calder Cup playoffs, following Hartford’s 4-0 loss to Springfield earlier in the evening.
Hunter Shepard made a key save for the Bears midway through the first period when Simon Ryfors fired a shot that created a rebound for Cole Koepke, but goalie Shepard was able to make the save to keep the game scoreless.
Mike Sgarbossa collected his 20th of the season for Hershey with an unassisted goal at 5:17 of the second frame when he stole the puck from Philippe Myers at the red line and raced up the ice on a breakaway to beat Hugo Alnefelt to the blocker side and make it 2-0 lead for the Bears.
The Crunch got on the board with a goal by Daniel Walcott at 19:04 when he took a pass from Gabriel Fortier at the net and elevated the puck over the shoulder of Shepard to bring the hosts to within a goal.
The Bears regained their two-goal advantage at 8:09 of the third when Connor McMichael sent a pass from the right side to Gabriel Carlsson at the left circle, and the defenseman’s shot off the right shoulder of Alnefelt rebounded to Julian Napravnik for his fourth of the season to make it 3-1.
Mike Vecchione closed out the scoring with an unassisted empty-net goal at 17:56 for his 22nd of the campaign.
Shots finished 34-28 in favor of the Crunch. The Bears and Crunch were both 0-for-2 on the power play.
The victory marked the earliest date (March 6) Hershey had clinched a playoff spot since the 2009-10 campaign.
In Sunday’s 4-3 disappointing shootout loss to the visiting Lehigh Valley Phantoms (33-25-3-3), Hershey (38-16-5-4) extended its point streak to six games (4-0-0-2).
The teams played through a scoreless first period, with goaltenders Zach Fucale of Hershey and Samuel Ersson of Lehigh Valley turning aside several chances for their clubs.
The Bears took the first lead of the contest with a power-play goal at 4:05 of the second stanza when Garrett Pilon one-timed an Aaron Ness pass at the left circle past Ersson for his eighth of the season. Mike Sgarbossa earned the secondary helper.
Hershey struck again with a 5-on-3 man advantage at 10:31 when Ethen Frank and Joe Snively connected in the slot and Snively blasted a shot that glanced off of Sam Anas past Ersson to make it 2-0, giving Anas his 10th of the season. The period ended with Hershey outshooting Lehigh Valley 21-6 to match the previous season-high for shots on goal.
A one-timer at 3:32 of the third period by Louie Belpedio trimmed Hershey’s lead to 2-1.
Julian Napravnik’s fifth of the season at 4:58, with assists going to Henrik Rybinski and Mason Morrelli, beat Ersson for a 3-1 lead.
The Phantoms countered when Ryan Fitzgerald split the Hershey defense and got a shot past Fucale at 6:25 to make it a one-goal difference, then Artem Anisimov tied the game with a power-play goal at 9:47.
With the game still tied 3-3 through the end of regulation and overtime, the Bears and Phantoms went to the shootout against each other for the second time this season.
Hershey elected to shoot second. Sgarbossa and Napravnik were stopped by Ersson, while Jordy Bellerive and Bobby Brink scored in the first and third rounds to seal the game for Lehigh Valley.
“Getting the win the previous night to clinch a playoff position was good but now we need to redefine the details of our game,” said Hershey head coach Todd Nelson. ” I’d like our special teams to play better and shoot the puck more often and be more selfish about it.”
Shots finished 40-24 in favor of the Bears.The Bears were 2-for-6 on the power play; the Phantoms finished 1-for-5 with the man advantage.
The Bears start a five-game road trip against the Toronto Marlies on Wednesday, March 29 at 11 a.m. at the Coca-Cola Coliseum. They will not return to Giant Center until Saturday, April 6 to host the Charlotte Checkers.
Bears Notes: The Bears are setting their sights on earning the highest-possible seeding in the Atlantic Division to be one of the top two teams that will qualify for a first-round bye