ALLENTOWN, Pa. – The Hershey Bears were in Allentown for the seventh and final time this season to take on the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Friday with a chance for the Bears to officially lock in a berth to the Calder Cup Playoffs if the chips fell the right way out of town.
After a back-and-forth seesaw game, the Bears went beyond regulation and earned a 4-3 overtime win with Brett Leason providing the heroics as he beat Felix Sandstrom top corner. The combination of Hershey’s win and a loss for the Hartford Wolf Pack clinched a playoff spot for the Bears at long last. Pheonix Copley earned the win with 13 saves.
If there was any additional evidence to determine that these two teams don’t like each other, it was apparent right off the bat with a heavyweight tilt with Hershey’s Dylan McIlrath exchanging blows with Lehigh Valley’s Garrett Wilson seconds into the game.
Just after the tilt, the Phantoms would get on the board first when Max Willman scored his 11th of the season off of a defensive breakdown from Hershey. Cooper Zech kept the puck in at the blue line and fed Willman for the tally, putting the Bears in a familiar position down by one. With no goals in well over two games’ worth of time, the Bears would get the monkey off their back with Bobby Nardella scoring on his birthday off of a great play up the ice, with Mike Sgarbossa and Garrett Pilon weaving over the blue line and finding Nardella for his sixth of the season on a beautiful redirection past Sandstrom.
The birthday boy Bobby Nardella scores his sixth of the season to get Hershey on the board! #HERvsLHV pic.twitter.com/YFj1rhnAe6
— Bears Hockey Nation (@HBHNationBlog) April 22, 2022
The game felt like a breakthrough contest for Hershey, but one they’d have to earn on this night. Sgarbossa seemingly hit the crossbar enough to leave a dent in this affair, and several great chances throughout the game caught iron and stayed out. Hershey did get the lead twice, only to see Lehigh Valley even the score as they fought to their last breath to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Aliaksei Protas scored his sixth of the season in the second period, which was matched just over a minute later with Tanner Laczynki beating a sprawled Copley. In the third, Lucas Johansen appeared to conquer those earlier demons of hitting the post when his shot went through traffic and hit the post, but this time finding twine to give the Bears the lead. Lehigh Valley had an answer just under a minute later when Adam Clendening similarly shot for a screen and got a deflection from Wilson to even the score once more.
With the loss for Hartford coming through while the two teams were duking it out in overtime, Leason would take the puck over the blue line and stick with it after his initial shot was blocked and snap a shot top shelf to send Hershey to the playoffs for the 69th time in franchise history. The two decisions, combined with a Wilkes-Barre win and a Bridgeport win on this night were enough not only for the Bears to get in, but to see all six teams who will compete in the Atlantic Division officially clinch playoff spots on this night. The Wolf Pack and the Phantoms were officially eliminated with losses, and the Bears and Penguins are still currently set to play in the first round if the postseason started today.
Brett Leason sends the Hershey Bears back to the Calder Cup Playoffs with an overtime winner! #HERvsLHV pic.twitter.com/jLWkXhes2h
— Bears Hockey Nation (@HBHNationBlog) April 23, 2022
The win breaks Hershey’s winless streak at PPL Center, winning in the seventh and final matchup in the season. The Bears scored four goals and won for just the third time this month but broke their scoreless drought early. Hershey was without forward Shane Gersich in this game but saw the return of Kody Clark after an absence with injury. The Bears and Phantoms will renew the rivalry again for the last time of 14 total games this season on Saturday night at Giant Center, and although the teams’ postseason fates are decided, Hershey desperately needs the points to try and reclaim home ice from Wilkes-Barre. The Penguins have four games remaining to the Bears’ two, so the Chocolate and White will need to take care of business and hope Wilkes-Barre drops most of their remaining schedule for that to be possible. Hershey’s season wraps up Sunday when the Bears host the Syracuse Crunch.
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