The Hershey Bears’ offense continued to struggle this weekend, as they dropped a pair of road games, losing 4-3 in Friday’s contest to Springfield and 3-1 in Hartford on Saturday.
In Friday’s loss to Springfield, Hershey’s Cody Franson scored twice in the final 1:10 to force overtime, but a hat-trick from longtime NHL’er James Neal gave the Thunderbirds a 4-3 overtime victory.
Springfield took a 1-0 first period lead at 12:11, when Sam Anas found the back of the net for his 13th goal of the season. His shot from the right wing snuck under the arm of Hershey goaltender Pheonix Copley.
Hershey’s Garrett Pilon tied the game early in the second period, converting a pass from Mason Morelli for his 14th goal of the season, 2:15 into the middle frame.
The Thunderbirds regained the lead late in the second period when Neal scored his first goal of the game on a partial breakaway, sliding a shot under Copley’s pad to make it 2-1 T-Birds.
Neal added his second of the night on a five-on-three power play 3:30 into the third, scoring on a one-timer from the right circle to put Springfield up 3-1.
Hershey fought back, pulling Copley for an extra attacker. Off a faceoff at 18:52, Franson would cut the deficit to 3-2 on a shot that beat Springfield goaltender Charlie Lindgren, with assists going to Bobby Nardella and Mike Vecchione.
The Bears tied the game with 12.6 seconds left in regulation to get Hershey a point, when Franson’s shot hit a Springfield player and bounced past Lindgren to make it 3-3. Pilon and Nardella assisted, with Nardella getting his second assist in his first game since Jan. 7.
The overtime only lasted 20 seconds, as Neal completed his hat trick to give the Thunderbirds the extra point.
Hershey went 0-for-3 on the power play, including failing to score on an extended 5-on-3 in the middle stanza. Springfield was 1-for-3. Shots finished 34-29 Springfield.
The loss dropped Hershey to 26-20-4-3 on the season.
On Friday, the Washington Capitals recalled forward Axel Jonsson-Fjallby from Hershey and re-assigned goaltender Zach Fucale to the Bears.
Pheonix Copley played in his 153rd game for Hershey to move into 9th place all-time in that category.
It was the fourth meeting between the Bears and Thunderbirds this season, with Hershey holding a 2-2-1-0 record versus the Atlantic Division’s top team, a mark that includes a 1-1-2-0 record at the MassMutual Center this season.
On Saturday, Hartford handed Hershey its fourth straight loss in a 3-1 final, as the Bears slipped to 26-21-4-3. Going into next week’s schedule, Lehigh Valley will visit Giant Center on Tuesday followed by a Wednesday trip to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Neither team was able to score in the first 20 minutes, then Hartford’s Matt Lorito scored 12:15 into the second period. On the power play, Lorito one-timed a shot from the right circle past Hershey goaltender Hunter Shepard to make it 1-0.
Trailing 1-0 entering the third period, the Bears pulled even when Mason Morelli won a puck battle in the slot, and Mike Vecchione swooped in and sent a short pass to Aliaksei Protas. He ripped a quick shot from the right circle that surprised Hartford goaltender Keith Kinkaid for his fourth marker of the season.
At 4:11, Hartford regained the lead. A collision at center ice injured Garrett Pilon, allowing the Wolf Pack to work the puck into the offensive zone. With Pilon attempting to get to his skates, Hartford’s Tanner Fritz banked a shot off a Hershey defender and past Shepard to give the Wolf Pack a 2-1 edge.
At 7:19 of the third period, with the Wolf Pack on a power play, Austin Rueschhoff extended Hartford’s lead to the 3-1 final.
Hershey went 0-for-3 on the power play while Hartford was 2-for-7. Shots favored the Wolf Pack, 29-25.
Both teams were missing their top goal-scorer for the game. Hartford’s Jonny Brodzinski had scored four times this year versus Hershey and leads the Wolf Pack with 18 markers. He’s currently on recall to the New York Rangers. Hershey’s Axel Jonsson-Fjallby had three goals versus the Wolf Pack and led Hershey with 16 goals, was recalled by Washington Friday.
The Bears, who are in sixth place in the Atlantic Division, have just eight of their 22 remaining games at Giant Center. The top six teams in the division qualify for the playoffs.
Hershey has scored just four more goals than they have allowed (156-152) and is now 2-7-1-0 in the last 10 outings, a span that includes two shutout losses.