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Depth Scoring Lifts Bears by Phantoms

#AHL | Losing some key pieces in the lineup, @TheHersheyBears needed their depth to step up on Wednesday against the @LVPhantoms. @FPHBears has the recap on a big win

Depth Scoring Lifts Bears by Phantoms

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – The Hershey Bears were looking for heroes in Allentown on Wednesday night to snap a three-game losing streak against a hot Lehigh Valley Phantoms team that was looking to push into a higher playoff spot. Hershey got some scoring in unusual places to supply the drama and ultimately drown out Garrett Wilson’s second hat trick of the season, led by Julian Napravnik’s pair of goals in a 6-3 decision at PPL Center. Zach Fucale earned the win with 18 saves while Samuel Ersson took the loss with 24 saves.

The game started in a much more expectable fashion as the Bears vaulted to the lead in less than two minutes as Connor McMichael swatted his 13th goal of the season by Ersson as a point shot from Jake Massie landed flat for the former first round pick to pot. Wilson would get into the act a few minutes later as he managed to slide a loose puck through the pads of Fucale to even the count at one.

Lehigh Valley pulled ahead with Wilson’s second of the game, burying a centering pass from Cooper Marody from behind the net after hemming the Bears in their defensive zone. With the bench further away in the middle stanza, it led to big trouble as Hershey’s defenders got stuck in the zone after a lengthy shift. However, with the Bears scoring few goals in recent time and looking for some momentum, they turned to the fourth line with former Phantom Matt Strome burying his first goal in the Chocolate and White, taking a centering feed from Beck Malenstyn and firing one in low for a huge boost for the visitors.

Hershey would follow it up barely half a minute later with Napravnik’s first goal, a highlight-reel move on the rush that saw him cut across a sliding Lehigh Valley defender, pulling the puck back and lifting it just a bit to get by the defender and beat Ersson with the shot to get the Bears back in front. Napravnik, who scored 49 points in 40 games at the college level a season ago, had just one goal to his name prior to Wednesday’s game at the American Hockey League level but it’d be hard to know that watching him on Wednesday.

The Bears looked to take a stranglehold on this game in the third with another great play by Napravnik, although he wouldn’t be credited with an assist. His back check put Bobby Nardella in a great position to step up and steal the puck, centering to Shane Gersich who beat Ersson through the pads for his fifth goal of the campaign. Lehigh Valley would cut the lead to one again with Wilson completing his second hat trick of the season with over half of the third period still to play.

It’s been a tricky position for the Bears in recent time, seeing a similar situation unfold on Saturday in just trying to hold onto a one-goal lead rather than expand upon it, which proved to be costly. Instead, Napravnik would give the Bears some important breathing room with his second of the game, deceiving the goaltender by holding and then quickly shooting the puck to catch him off guard. Nardella capped the game off with his fifth goal of the year with a long range shot on the empty net to give the Bears two important points in the first of two games at PPL Center this week.

The Bears did so without a number of top players, skating without one of their leading scorers in Mike Sgarbossa for the third straight game after sustaining an injury during morning skate on Saturday. His replacement on the top line, Henrik Borgstrom, departed Wednesday’s game in the first period and did not return, and sparkling rookie defender Vincent Iorio missed the game after being hurt on Sunday. The Phantoms were without Tyson Foerster for the game after being recalled to Philadelphia earlier this week in addition to another top scorer in Elliot Desnoyers.

Among star performances, Marody had a trio of assists on Wilson’s goals as the Phantoms duo got two of the three-star honors in the loss. Napravnik earned the other star in addition to the team’s bear head honors in the locker room in a video shared to the team’s social media, serving as the rookie’s first multi-goal game. Henry Rybinski had a strong game with two assists in an increased role due to the injuries at the center position with Gersich and Nardella collecting multiple points as well.

The points are important ones gained by the Bears to keep pace with the Providence Bruins, who won on Wednesday night to keep the gap to first place at just three. The two points drops Hershey’s magic number to clinch a playoff berth to 11, as they did not get any help out of town on this night and extends their lead over idle Charlotte to five points. The Phantoms see a couple points go by the wayside that would have lifted them into fourth place and closer to those Checkers for third place with only 12 games to go in their season. It sets the stage for an interesting rematch on Friday night in the finale of seven games in Allentown, with two more to go at Giant Center before the year is up.

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