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Nagle, Phantoms Blank Bears

It was the 14th and final installment of the rivalry series between the Hershey Bears and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Saturday night at Giant Center

HERSHEY, Pa. – It was the 14th and final installment of the rivalry series between the Hershey Bears and the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Saturday night at Giant Center in the back half of a home-and-home series. Despite a 42 shot effort from the Bears on home ice, it would be heroics from Pat Nagle as he turned aside all of the shots fired his way and the Phantoms walked away with a 2-0 win as Hershey’s offensive struggles continued a day after clinching a playoff spot. Zach Fucale suffered the loss with 18 saves and Cooper Zech’s first goal of the season turned out to be the game-winner.

The two teams played a scoreless game through two periods despite a massive shot advantage for the Bears throughout the game. Some trends in recent games continued, particularly Hershey continuing to hit the post in big chances like a Brett Leason breakaway that rang iron in the second, but Nagle made big saves left and right to keep the Bears off the board. The Bears came up empty on seven power-play attempts including a lengthy two-man advantage in the first period, and the Phantoms ultimately finessed the win by knocking Hershey off their game in the third to produce Zech’s goal. Linus Sandin would add a second goal that proved to be too much for the Bears to overcome.

It was another low-scoring game against the two lowest-scoring teams in the AHL. The win for Lehigh Valley is a small consolation after their loss on Friday locked in a playoff spot for Hershey, and the decisions on Saturday confirmed that the Bears will face off with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins for the first time since 2016 in the first round of the playoffs. The two teams still need to play their remaining schedule to determine who will have home-ice advantage, but the Penguins would need to lose their remaining three games and the Bears would need to win on Sunday in order for that to become a reality, partly due to the Penguins’ win last week.

“First I think I have to give credit where credit is due,” Bears head coach Scott Allen said after the game. “I thought Pat Nagle played outstanding for them, not to diminish the job Zach Fucale did, but he for sure won them a hockey game. I liked that game in the first two periods, I thought we got away from our game in the third period, and our power play has to score. We have to score five-on-three in the first, and you have to score on one of the seven power plays that you have in the game. Again, I certainly do not want to diminish the game Nagle played for them.”

“We have to manufacture goals a certain way. We’re a patchwork lineup compared to what we once were, and that is a challenge. Not everybody is capable of filling someone else’s shoes just because they’re playing up in the lineup, and it’s very evident throughout the game at all levels more so in the National Hockey League, so it is a challenge.”

The Bears will wrap up their season on Sunday evening when they host the Syracuse Crunch, and the Chocolate and White would do well to end on a positive note. The Bears are very much in need of any positive contributions to their points percentage, but they’ll need a combination of a win and a few losses for the Penguins in order to host two of the three games in the first-round matchup. Wilkes-Barre visits the Hartford Wolf Pack for an afternoon tilt on Sunday before playing rescheduled games on Friday in Syracuse and Saturday in Lehigh Valley to conclude the year, while Hershey is idle in the extra week added on by the AHL.

The Calder Cup Playoffs are set to get underway in the first week of May, with full schedules to be released once the standings are set.

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