HERSHEY, Pa. – The Hershey Bears hosted the Providence Bruins at Giant Center in a playoff-style game between the Atlantic Division’s top two teams and two of the top teams in the American Hockey League as a whole on Saturday. Hershey had the lion’s share of chances and puck possession in this game and had a much more complete game with no lapses, as seen in their previous two wins, but the Bears couldn’t find the back of the net despite generating some quality opportunities. The matchup lived up to the billing despite the low 1-0 final score, with a playoff-like feel between two very similarly structured teams.
This particular matchup might not be representative of the full power of the top two teams in the Atlantic as both squads were without key personnel in Saturday’s game. The Bruins were without the likes of Vinni Lettieri and Luke Toporowski, two of their top forwards, while the Bears were without three of their top defensemen in Dylan McIlrath, Vincent Iorio, and Gabriel Carlsson. The latter two suited up for the Washington Capitals while the Bears were playing, as Iorio tallied his first National Hockey League point, and Carlsson had a pair of assists as the Capitals beat the San Jose Sharks 8-3. Despite the lack of defenders, Hershey’s group stepped up with a strong effort including Benton Maass putting on a Bears sweater for the first time this year as the plus/minus leader for their ECHL affiliate, the South Carolina Stingrays.
Despite the Bears setting a new franchise record for the fewest amount of shots allowed in a single game, the Bruins got the only goal of the game off the stick of Marc McLaughlin as one of only two shots on goal in a particularly sparse frame of hockey in terms of offense as a reminder of how cruel the game can be. Kyle Keyser did enough to earn the shutout with 22 saves while Hunter Shepard took the loss with ten saves. The win pulls the Bruins to within a point of the Bears in the standings with two more head-to-head games on tap in a week.
We allowed a franchise-low 11 shots on goal, but it was Providence who earned the 1-0 win tonight. We rematch with them on the road next Saturday and Sunday. pic.twitter.com/MGbtBn5aKh
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) March 5, 2023
“I thought we played a pretty good game,” Bears head coach Todd Nelson said after the game. “I just got word that we allowed the fewest shots in franchise history, Shep had to make some big saves for us. It’s disappointing because I thought we carried the play, but offensively we have to get pucks to the net. We had two-on-one chances or partial two-on-ones and we tried to get too fancy and we got no shot on net. That’s playoff-style hockey, you want to put pucks, shot volume on the net. We outshot them tonight, I thought we could have had at least ten more shots on net. In games like that, you’ve got to shoot against the grain, get pucks going to the net, might hit a skate and go in. We’ve got to learn from this and move on, but I thought we played well enough to win.”
“Don’t worry, I was keeping tabs on [the Capitals game]. I think Carly [Carlsson], I’m not sure what he finished but he was a plus-three at one point. At the start of the year, we had them as a pair and it didn’t work out well. For the last two and a half months, we’ve had them playing together and they compliment each other real nice. Carly is a big strong guy who can move bodies in front and has decent puck skills. Vinny can break out the puck on his own because of his skating ability, they like to kill penalties and do a good job. It’s a great pair to have, I can throw that pairing against any line in the league and feel comfortable. I’m happy they both had good games today. Don’t worry, I was keeping tabs on them.”
Hershey will kick off a four-game road trip over the next two weeks featuring not only two games against the Bruins, but another two installments of the season series against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms at PPL Center. The Bears will only be home for two of their remaining nine games in the month of March, with just five games at home on the schedule overall. It’s rare to get a week between games going down the stretch, but the two teams will use it as an opportunity to get some rest and maybe see their lineups improve before resuming play.
The loss ends Hershey’s five-game homestand on a bit of a sour note in the loss before a sold-out crowd at Giant Center, as Saturday home games have drawn big crowds all year long as one of the best-attended buildings in the AHL. Providence closes the gap to just one point separating the two teams, setting the stage for an important pair of games at Amica Mutual Pavilion in a week when the two teams play there for the first time all season, with the three prior matchups all being played in Hershey. The two teams stayed ahead of the third-place Charlotte Checkers, who dropped a regulation loss to the Springfield Thunderbirds as those teams get a little closer together in the standings. The puck drops on the rematch between the Bears and the Bruins on Saturday at 7:05 PM EST.
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