CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It was no joke on April Fool’s Day as the Hershey Bears surrendered a 3-0 lead to the Charlotte Checkers at Bojangles’ Coliseum in the latest road loss for the Bears. Scott Wilson’s power-play goal in the third was the difference maker as the Checkers went from pulling starter Joey Daccord to scoring five unanswered goals in a game with heavy playoff implications with the third and fourth-placed teams in the Atlantic Division going at it. The Charlotte win helps the Checkers stay as high as third, likely for the duration of the season, even with one more game between the two teams. Zach Fucale suffered the loss with 24 saves while Christopher Gibson earned the win in relief stopping all 16 shots he faced.
The Bears looked like they had finally solved all of their road woes over this losing skid away from Giant Center by striking three times over the first 20 minutes and change to vault to a 3-0 lead and chase the league’s Goaltender of the Month in Daccord. Kody Clark got the first goal just under two minutes in, Mason Morelli would deflect a point shot from Bobby Nardella before the frame was out, and Cody Franson added another one early in the third to get to the point where Daccord swapped his goalie mask for a baseball cap. Enter Gibson, who made a few key saves early and the Bears missed a few noteworthy chances afterward to allow the Checkers back into this one. Alexander True and Zac Dalpe scored before the period was out, and Cale Fleury knotted the game up three minutes into the third. Wilson would strike on the power play as the winner and Dalpe would add another to give the final score.
It’s the latest missed gut check for the Bears, who have now dropped their third straight game and look like a worse team than the one that takes the ice in the Sweetest Place on Earth. This weekend marks the last two games between the Bears and Checkers this season and represented a huge opportunity for the Bears to not only distance themselves from the bottom of the division, but to claw their way into the conversation for third place, and a split is the best result the team can go for now. The only silver lining to the evening’s events came out of town, where both the fifth place Hartford Wolf Pack and sixth place Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins lost in their respective games, so no ground was lost on this day.
With Charlotte dropping to single digits in terms of games remaining this season, it seems safe to say they’ll be on their way to clinching a playoff spot sooner rather than later. Charlotte pulls even with the Providence Bruins for second place in points percentage with the decision.
For the Bears, it’s another head-scratching loss that continues a frustrating trend of finding ways to lose these kinds of big games. Their recent trend has seen them lose most often by outshooting their opponents in 17 road games this season but going 2-12-2-1 in those games. Friday night’s game doesn’t factor into that statistic as the Checkers erased an early shots lead for the Bears by a 29-27 final count. But most recently, the Bears outshot the Wolf Pack by a 44-22 count last weekend and still fell in a shootout. Offense has been at a premium for the Bears away from home, only scoring four goals twice since the second week of February in 15 road games. It’s hard to say the lack of key personnel like Matt Moulson, Mike Sgarbossa, Brian Pinho, Joe Snively, and Axel Jonsson-Fjallby doesn’t factor into that equation at any point, either, as all five of those players were either having career years or are previous 20-goal scorers at different points of their careers.
The two teams will get back at it this evening with a 6:00 PM puck drop. Saturday’s slate represents another opportunity for the Bears as the three division foes below them are all in action, most notably a showdown between the Penguins and the seventh-place Bridgeport Islanders. With as many head-to-head matchups in the Atlantic Division, the Bears need to do themselves a favor by winning at least one game to keep their positioning in the standings. It appears the divisional race will be a close one to the bitter end of the season as the season intensifies.
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