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Neal’s Hat Trick Thwarts Bears Comeback

Neal’s Hat Trick Thwarts Bears Comeback

SPRINGFIELD, Conn. – With the score seemingly firmly in control for the Springfield Thunderbirds against the goal starved Hershey Bears on Friday night, it seemed like the division-leading Thunderbirds would skate easily to the win with under two minutes to play. The Bears broke through their drought when Cody Franson scored two goals within a minute of each other, but James Neal completed the hat trick in overtime to give Springfield a 4-3 decision. It ended up being another loss for the Bears despite the valiant effort to earn a point as the should-be NHL forward ultimately made the difference with three goals.

Many trends continued for the Bears that have been a large reason for the team’s struggles of late. The Bears squandered the power play again on this night including a lengthy look at a two-man advantage in the second period with the game tied. Hershey was able to break their scoring woes in a big way in this one, as Garrett Pilon matched a first-period goal from Sam Anas, but missing out on the power play caused Neal’s first of the game to sting a little extra coming just after a missed power play opportunity for the Thunderbirds. Hershey surrendered a power-play goal when they gave up a nearly full two minutes of two-man advantage time to Springfield, with Neal potting his second of the game to extend the lead to two.

Those leads have recently proven insurmountable for the Bears of late, with the late unit with the goalie pulled in particular another sore spot of late along with the power play. Heroics on this night from Franson were aided in part by fortuitous deflections off of Springfield defenders, but the rapid strike goals helped Hershey earn at least a point against the division leaders.

The Bears were dealt some unfortunate news for them as forward Axel Jonsson-Fjallby was recalled by the Washington Capitals, and with the forward needing waivers to return if he plays in even one game, it’s likely his recall will be extended if he returns at all. He joins Mike Sgarbossa, Joe Snively, Matt Moulson, and Lucas Johansen as players to miss significant time due to injury, recall, or both in some cases, and the Bears appeared to at times lack the offensive firepower to compete with a loaded team like Springfield.

It’s at the very least a step in the right direction for the Bears to overcome the deficit and force extra time after some heartbreaking recent decisions, but Neal’s third goal early in the extra session is still a gut punch that the team will want back. Pheonix Copley came up with another big effort with 30 saves, but the Thunderbirds have so many good players that it presents a big challenge. The Bears’ lack of scoring personnel may prove to be a defining storyline of the second half of this season unless they are able to get back on track. Hershey is in Hartford on Saturday night to take on the Wolf Pack to hopefully get a better result this time around.

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