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Bears Take Shootout Decision Over Phantoms

#AHL | Wins loom large late in a season, and @TheHersheyBears got a key one Saturday against the @LVPhantoms. @FPHBears recaps the Bears’ win

Hershey forward Ethen Frank battles Lehigh Valley's Kevin Connauton in front of the net. Photo via Carl Minieri, Field Pass Hockey.

Bears Take Shootout Decision Over Phantoms

HERSHEY, Pa. – It was the 10th matchup out of 14 games between the Hershey Bears and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms before a sold-out crowd at on Saturday at the Giant Center as the two teams met up looking for crucial points in the Atlantic Division standings in two unique situations. With the season winding down, the remaining matchups figure to be important all the way to game number 72, but in this edition of the rivalry, the Bears held it together and recovered for a win in the shootout as forward Henrik Borgstrom continued to be perfect in his career in the skills competition and Zach Fucale made 25 stops including three of four in the shootout for a 4-3 Hershey win. Nolan Maier made 24 stops in the loss as Lehigh Valley settled for a single point on this night.

It was Hershey’s first game in six days, and the rust was evident in the first period as the Bears took time to get into form with only two shots on goal to seven for Lehigh Valley, who held a 1-0 lead thanks to a power play goal from Tyson Foerster. The Phantoms caught Fucale with a steal behind the net, and a furious scramble in front of the net ensued, where Foerster fired the puck past the outstretched Hershey netminder to open the scoring. The Phantoms entered play without goaltender Troy Grosenick, injured in their last game on Wednesday, and their leading scorer in Elliot Desnoyers after he was recalled to the Philadelphia Flyers before puck drop. Foerster, the team’s other leading scorer, made his presence known early in this game.

The Bears recovered from their slow start with 14 shots on goal in the middle stanza and evened the count seven minutes into the frame when Joe Snively skated into the zone and fired a pass to Riley Sutter at the other side, who made no mistake with his fourth goal of the season. Snively, playing in his first game with the Bears since February 11 after a recall to the Washington Capitals, got back on the board with the slick feed to Sutter, who matched his career-best numbers with his ninth point of the year.

Hershey kept the momentum rolling and took the lead when Hendrix Lapierre stepped up in his own zone to snag a loose puck, skating it the other way and following his own shot up with a great pass to Garrett Pilon for his seventh goal of the campaign. Lapierre had been a healthy scratch during Hershey’s recent trip to Charlotte as a reset for the rookie forward and returned to the lineup with a big effort to get back on the scoresheet. Pilon drove to the net and buried the pass for his 20th point in 32 games.

The Bears extended their lead to two goals seconds into the third period when Mike Sgarbossa buried his 18th goal of the year on a nifty play by Hershey’s top line. Both of Hershey’s All-Star forwards tallied assists when Ethen Frank fired the puck and Mike Vecchione swatted the puck out of midair to the side of the net for Sgarbossa to fire into the net. Sgarbossa continues to be a point-per-game player for the Bears with five in his last three games.

Lehigh Valley chipped away at Hershey’s lead, flipping the script on what has happened to them in their last two outings where the Phantoms lost leads in the third period. Wyatte Wylie got the ball rolling when his point shot hit a defender and beat a screened Fucale to cut into the lead, and the Phantoms tied it when Hayden Hodgson took a pass from Louie Belpedio and caught the Bears in a line change, knifing in and beating Fucale on a deke to even the score at three. Despite some tense moments, the game would go to overtime and eventually a shootout thanks to a big penalty kill by the Bears in the extra session courtesy of a key play by Beck Malenstyn, who blocked a shot in a key juncture.

In the shootout, Snively and Foerster were the only two players on each team to find twine, leading to Borgstrom’s chance where he beat Maier low on the stick side for the winner. Borgstrom has five shootout tallies in five American Hockey League shootout attempts in the win, and Fucale delivered the win including stopping sensational rookie forward Bobby Brink twice, once in the shootout and the other on a penalty shot for the win.

“I was kind of concerned about this game,” Bears head coach Todd Nelson in his postgame press conference. “Being off for five or six days since we played last, I was concerned about our start and it showed tonight. We got into the game as it went on, we were hoping to get through that first period 0-0 but it didn’t go that way. The guys battled back and it was a good two points for our hockey team but we have to be a lot better and we’re going to be a lot better tomorrow.”

“It’s their commitment to detail,” Nelson said of the penalty kill in overtime. “Obviously, the four-on-three penalty kill we had in overtime was huge for us, and you saw that Beck Malenstyn sacrificed his body blocking that shot, he did everything he could to block that shot and it takes courage to do that. Our guys are getting into a rhythm and there were some big saves by Fucale. The combination of all those things helps out.”

“We have to get our team playing together like we did in December. That’s when we were playing our best hockey, we were rolling, and then there were call-ups, guys were sent down. We want to get to that point; our guys are competitive enough to understand who we have coming up with our opponents and it’s a good test to see where we’re at. We have a tough game against Belleville, they’re a pretty quick hockey team, they’re a hungry hockey team. They have a better lineup than they did a month ago when we faced them. I think our opponents will get our guys charged up to play because we want to finish at least in the top two spots. Charlotte’s been playing well and every game is a three-point game, so we have to keep pace.”

As Hershey’s head coach alluded to, the Bears will have a date with the Senators after Belleville scrapped their way to a 2-1 overtime decision over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Saturday. Hershey took a 4-2 decision over Belleville north of the border in January courtesy of a four-goal third-period performance. The win helps the Bears keep pace with the Charlotte Checkers, who took a win over the Bridgeport Islanders to maintain a six-point lead for second place while simultaneously bringing Hershey to within one point of first-place Providence, who was off today. The top three teams in the Atlantic Division are all in action Sunday afternoon in three games to keep an eye on for divisional positioning, with the Bruins hosting the Rochester Americans and the Checkers visiting the Springfield Thunderbirds. All those games get started at 3:00 PM EST. The Phantoms earn a point in this one, but the standings stay close for spots four through eight in the division that are separated by just four points overall. Lehigh Valley travels to Bridgeport to take on the Islanders in a key tilt for positioning at 5 PM EST.

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