HERSHEY, Pa. – It was a sold-out crowd for the final match between the Hershey Bears and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms at Giant Center before the All-Star break, but for the second straight home game for the Bears, it went sideways in a 5-1 loss on this night. Hershey mustered just 23 shots on goal and squandered the game despite scoring the first goal for the ninth straight time versus Lehigh Valley. Bobby Brink was the standout player of the game for the Phantoms with a goal and two assists while Jackson Cates had a pair of goals in the win.
The game started off well enough for the Bears, who opened the scoring with Aliaksei Protas tallying his second goal in as many games this week against the Phantoms by burying a rebound in front of Samuel Ersson for a power play marker. It was a better first period as a whole for the Bears after being blanked in their last home outing a week ago, putting 11 shots on goal and striking in the opening moments of the game.
Unfortunately, it all went sideways with symptoms starting in the second period. The Phantoms tied the game at one when Max Willman made a nice feed to Cates in front of the net for his ninth goal of the season, and then took the lead with Tyson Foerster’s 17th, courtesy of an extended two-man advantage for the visitors, the only such advantage to be doled out in this game.
The wheels came off in the third period as the Bears allowed three goals while only mustering four shots on goal in the final stanza, but it wasn’t for a lack of opportunities as the home team passed up shot after shot and ultimately walked away with no tallies, to the frustration of the capacity crowd.
Aliaksei Protas scored, but Lehigh Valley earned a 5-1 win at GIANT Center tonight. Here are the highlights ⬇ pic.twitter.com/3jDH27jMG2
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) February 5, 2023
“Game nine against them, we’re going to get very familiar with them,” Bears assistant coach Patrick Wellar said, filling in for Todd Nelson as Hershey’s bench boss was away for the weekend. “Especially seeing them so many times in a short period. They’re a much-improved team; we saw it on Wednesday where they kind of took it to us. Give them a lot of credit, they played hard, I think we got a little sidetracked and got caught up in some of the unnecessary things and lost our focus a bit.”
“Tonight, it was more of the finer details, some of the execution, some of their big players stepped up, their power play stepped up and got two goals while ours got one. It was a struggle, it was one of those games we learn from. That’s what you see in the playoffs, those are emotional games that you have to stay focused and can’t get caught up in the rough stuff.”
It’s a tough loss to take for the Bears, who have now sustained losses in three of their last four games and have two losses in a row at Giant Center where they’ve played very strong hockey in this season. The break comes at a good time for Hershey to rest and reset, but there’s plenty of work to be done as the team remains in first place only courtesy of a tiebreaker as the Providence Bruins closed the gap with a win on Saturday. The break may be a good time to get away from the rink for a bit and refocus, as although the losses haven’t been terrible, some trends have emerged that are unsettling for the team but are bound to happen at times over the course of a lengthy season.
Lehigh Valley, meanwhile, gains a bit of valuable separation in the crowded Atlantic Division standings with two points to get a three-point gap over the Bridgeport Islanders for the bottom remaining playoff spots.
The Bears will be back in action when they visit the Utica Comets on Friday while the Phantoms visit Hartford the same day to return to action.
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