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2022 Calder Cup Playoffs

Nylander Lifts Penguins Past Bears in OT

WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – It was a furious battle in the third and final game of a first-round series between the Hershey Bears and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Monday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. Despite a fierce Hershey rally that saw the visitors erase a 3-1 Penguins lead in the last two minutes of regulation, Wilkes-Barre controlled overtime, and Alex Nylander ripped a shot top shelf past Pheonix Copley to send the home team on a date with the Springfield Thunderbirds in the second round of the playoffs. Tommy Nappier earned the win with 34 saves, while Copley finished with 42 stops.

This roller coaster of a game got started with a Hershey goal when Mike Sgarbossa found a cross-ice pass from Garrett Pilon for a tap-in at the back door to make it 1-0 Bears. The goal resulted from hard work by the new line that featured Beck Malenstyn, whose tally on Sunday earned him a promotion to the top line. However, before the period was out, Wilkes-Barre evened the score when Matt Bartkowski’s shot from the blue line went off-target but hit the skate of a Bear and ricocheted past Copley to even the score at one apiece. The teams played a similarly tight game to Sunday with few big chances allowed and solid play from both goaltenders.

However, the third period took twists and turns fitting for a thrill ride at Hersheypark, as the Penguins opened up a 3-1 lead. Radim Zohorna scored first, as his shot came innocently on Copley but didn’t stick to his glove and dribbled over the line. Wilkes-Barre doubled it when Sam Poulin fired a shot that leaked through Copley’s pads and over the line in a pair of uncharacteristic goals for one of the league’s best in the regular season. With Hershey looking at the end of its season, the Bears rallied for their goaltender, starting with Pilon ripping a shot from his off wing and into the net. Less than a minute later, Brett Leason tied the game on a jam play from behind the goal line, banking a shot off of Nappier to even the count at three. The Bears achieved such a rally only one time all season long, and it was a dramatic way to make it happen on this night.

In overtime, however, the Penguins largely controlled play. Lucas Johansen went down early on after blocking a shot and exited the game, and Wilkes-Barre controlled play with the benches an extended distance in the extra session. The winning goal came just over eight minutes in as Nylander got some space over the blue line and fired a laser past Copley’s glove to send the Penguins to the second round of the playoffs.

Wilkes-Barre goes on to face the Springfield Thunderbirds in the second round of the playoffs, with the series set to open on Wednesday in Springfield. The two teams are close geographically, and the series will see the Thunderbirds host the first two games back-to-back on Wednesday and Thursday before the series shifts to Wilkes-Barre on Sunday. The best-of-five series will see games four and five take place on Monday and Wednesday in Wilkes-Barre and Springfield, respectively, as the playoffs begin for the Thunderbirds, while the upstart Penguins will be coming in with some momentum coming off of a very close series. The tested Penguins will be facing the rested Thunderbirds as the intrigue of the AHL’s new playoff format will impact this new series.

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