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Heathy Bears Blank Phantoms

HERSHEY, Pa. – Injuries have been a trend for the Hershey Bears for some time. Though, on Tuesday night, when the Chocolate and White were taking on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, some much-needed assistance arrived on the ice. Thanks to a Zach Fucale shutout, the Bears skated to a 4-0 win at Giant Center. For Fucale, that’s the second shutout in as many games. Beck Malenstyn led the way with the first three-point game of his AHL career, and his goal stood up as the winner. The Bears snapped a four-game losing streak with the win.

The Bears saw a few key players return to the lineup for Tuesday’s game. Mike Sgarbossa and Lucas Johansen returned from the injured list, and Garrett Pilon was able to play after leaving Hershey’s last game holding his shoulder. Pilon and Sgarbossa united on the top line, with the former chipping in Hershey’s third goal of the game. Hershey could not break their recent scoring drought in the first period. However, the returning players made an immediate impact and set the tone for the team. The Bears broke through when Malenstyn got a stick on a point shot from Dylan McIlrath for his sixth of the season to give Hershey a 1-0 lead.

The big challenge for the Bears up 1-0 after two periods was sustaining the lead and adding to it. Hershey has had notoriously low scoring in the team’s last few games during this difficult stretch, and on a partial power play to start the third period, the Bears bucked the trend. Brett Leason drove to the net front after the power play expired and tucked a backhand shot under Felix Sandstrom to double the lead. The goal was Leason’s first with the Bears since opening night, his second of the season in the AHL.

Leason’s goal built more momentum, leading to the Bears’ third goal when Shane Gersich jumped on a loose puck in front of Sandstrom, leading to Pilon chipping the puck over the goal line to extend the lead to 3-0.

Malenstyn would score his second of the game and the third point of the night with a goal on the empty net after the Bears withstood a barrage of shots from the Phantoms to earn the clean sheet for Fucale. It’s an unusually strong stat among what’s been a trying time for the Bears, but Fucale has been hot of late with his second shutout in as many starts. A few weeks ago, the goaltender also posted a shutout in Hershey’s 4-0 win in Utica. He was then recalled to the Washington Capitals as Hershey’s NHL affiliate had some injury struggles with former Bears Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov. Fucale stopped Lehigh Valley’s largest barrage of shots in the third with 13 stops and 26 overall for the game.

“We knew we had to hold momentum coming out of the power play, and that was the key,” Bears head coach Scott Allen said after the game. “I thought we had a really good look initially on the power play and the extremely big goal from Brett Leason, and we were able to build on that and hold on and score the third and the empty netter. Probably gave up a few more shots than I’d like to see in the last five minutes but happy for our guys, happy for our guys because as frustrating as it is for all of us – myself included – it’s usually more frustrating when you’re the athlete that has skin in the game in regards to being able to go on the ice and get the job done or unfortunately sometimes not, happy for our players.”

Hershey’s struggles against Lehigh Valley have been well documented to start the season, coming into the game with just two wins in seven tries in the first half of the season series. The two teams will play six more times before the season concludes starting on Sunday evening at Giant Center, and tensions will certainly flare as they have historically between the two teams. Well after the final horn sounded, Brennan Saulnier started a scrap between the two teams to end the game, setting the table for a tense rematch. The Bears will travel to Bridgeport to take on the Islanders on Friday prior to the rematch, while Lehigh Valley will host Laval and Hartford prior to Sunday’s game.

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