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BY DON SCOTT

On Friday, the Hershey Bears closed out their regular-season road games with a 4-3 overtime win at the Lehigh Valley Phantoms that qualified them for the Calder Cup playoffs for the 69th time. The loss eliminated Lehigh Valley from postseason consideration.

On Saturday, the Bears and Phantoms met in the Giant Center, and this time Lehigh Valley got a 42-save outing by goaltender Pat Nagle in a 2-0 victory.

On Sunday, Hershey ended its 2021-22 regular season with a 5-3 home loss to the Syracuse Crunch. The Bears finish with the regular year with a 34-32-6-4 record and will be in the Calder Cup Playoffs starting Friday, May 6 at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at 7:05 p.m.

Game Two of their opening-round series will be played Sunday, May 8 at Giant Center at 5 p.m.. If necessary, Game 3 will be contested on Monday, May 9 at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at 7:05 p.m.

Friday’s game started with a fight 18 seconds in and that was followed by the Phantoms scoring 18 seconds later to take a quick 1-0 lead. Lehigh Valley’s Garrett Wilson and Hershey’s Dylan McIlrath were the combatants, while Max Willman scored on Lehigh Valley’s first shot of the game, for his 11th goal of the season.

Hershey responded at 10:21 to end a scoreless drought at 141:32 minutes, as Bobby Nardella celebrated his 26th birthday by deflecting a pass from Garrett Pilon over Lehigh Valley goaltender Felix Sandstrom’s blocker.

Hershey took a brief 2-1 lead at 10:23 of the second period when Aliaksei Protas connected for his eighth goal of the season. As Hershey skated over the blue line, Protas took a pass from Brett Leason in the far circle and snapped a shot over Sandstrom’s right pad.

Lehigh Valley’s Tanner Laczynski responded at 11:38, striking off a turnover from the slot to make it 2-2.

The teams traded goals in the third period, as Lucas Johansen gave Hershey the lead at 6:03. After a Protas faceoff win, Johansen’s eighth goal of the season found its way through traffic to beat Sandstrom and give Hershey a 3-2 lead.

Just 57 seconds later, Wilson tied the game for the Phantoms by deflecting an Adam Clendening shot past Hershey goaltender Pheonix Copley to pull the Phantoms even at 3-3.

In the overtime, Nardella fed Leason who put the Bears into the post-season when he skated in on an odd-man rush. His initial chance was broken up, but he got the puck back and roofed a shot over Sandstrom to give Hershey its tenth overtime win of the season. 

Shots favored Hershey, 31-16.The Bears were 0-for-2 on the power play while the Phantoms were 0-for-1. 

Bears Notes:

Hershey is 5-8-3-0 on Friday’s this season. All of Hershey’s games on Friday nights have come on the road.

Goaltender Hunter Shepard was re-assigned to the Bears on Thursday. He re-joins Hershey upon the conclusion of the season for the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays.

Hershey has ten overtime wins this season, a franchise record. The Bears are the first AHL team to record double-digit overtime wins since the 2018-19 Toronto Marlies (12). 

On Saturday, the Bears dominated the visiting Phantoms, firing 42 shot on goal, but none found the back of the net in Hershey’s eighth shutout loss of the season, a 2-0 final.

Despite a first period 5-on-3 man advantage for almost two minutes, and a 14-3 shot edge, the contest scoreless and remained that way through the middle stanza.

The Phantoms’ Pat Nagle and Hershey’s Zach Fucale were both perfect in net, with Nagle definitely the busier of the two making 29 stops to Fucale’s 11, through 40 minutes.

Lehigh Valley changed that early in the third period when Cooper Zech scored his first goal of the season at 1:56 on the Phantoms’ 13th shot of the game. Linus Sandia and Isaac Ratcliffe set up the eventual game-winner.

“Pat Nagle was outstanding for them, not to diminish the job Zach Fucale did for us, but he won the game for them,” coach Scott Allen said. “I liked our game the first two periods, but we got away from our game in the third and our power play must score. You have to score 5-on-3 in the first period and get something on one of the seven power plays you have.”

Ratcliffe assisted on the insurance goal with a pass to Logan Day, who found an open Sandia at 8:49.

Sunday’s game saw Hershey end the 2021-22 regular season with a 5-3 home loss to the Syracuse Crunch.

After being shutout in two straight home games and scoreless in the first period, Hershey got on the board at 4:57 of the second period. Brett Leason struck on a power play for his sixth goal of the season, tapping in a rebound at the back post to make it 1-0. Mike Sgarbossa and Garrett Pilon had the assists.

Simon Ryfors made it a 1-1 game at 13:55 in the second period, then the teams combined for six goals in the third period.

The Crunch struck twice when Charles Hudon scored on the power play at 1:52 to make it 2-1, and Remi Elie connected at 5:10 to put the Crunch up 3-1.

Hershey responded with a four-on-four, highlight-reel goal by Garrett Pilon at 8:41. He skated around the Syracuse defense and out waited Crunch goaltender Hugo Alnefelt to make it 3-2.

Less than a minute later, Gemel Smith came up with the eventual game-winner, scoring an unassisted goal on the backhand, at 9:05 for a 4-2 lead.

“Syracuse is a very good team with tons of fire power and is the best team we’ve seen all year,” said Allen. “I liked the fact there was no quit in our guys, and I would have been extremely disappointed if that had happened because that would’ve meant I had the team completely misread.”

Hershey’s Jake Massie’s second goal of the season made it 4-3 at 15:54. Mike Sgarbossa collected his third assist of the game and Tobias Geisser had the second helper.

“We’re banged up, lost a couple of guys this weekend, and have faced as much adversity as a team could face and yet they found a way to make the playoffs, so that’s a huge credit to the players,” Allen said.

Elie ended Hershey’s comeback bid with an empty-net goal at 18:05 for the 5-3 final. 

Shots finished 34-26 in favor of Hershey. The Bears went 1-for-6 on the power play and Syracuse was 1-for-3.

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