ALLENTOWN, Pa. – It was a back-and-forth affair between the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and the Hershey Bears on Sunday at the PPL Center, with a goal from Linus Sandin standing up as the winner. The goal capped dueling storylines between the two teams as Cal O’Reilly tallied two shorthanded goals in the game, while former Phantom Mike Vecchione had a pair of goals in his return to Allentown. Zach Fucale suffered the loss in goal with 19 saves, while Felix Sandstrom earned the win with 26 stops.
The Bears entered play in an oddly similar position as they were the last time these two teams met at this arena – missing three key players after an overtime win over the Bridgeport Islanders a day earlier. Garrett Pilon, Mike Sgarbossa, and Alexander Alexeyev were all out with injuries that may not have quick turnaround times, in addition to leading scorer Joe Snively playing in the NHL with the Washington Capitals. The Bears entered play without five of their top eight scoring players, four starting defensemen, and six starting forwards.
The Phantoms are no strangers to losing players to recall and other bizarre circumstances, as their parent club, the Philadelphia Flyers, continue to utilize players in their system to account for injuries. The most recent of those situations was the recall of forward Wade Allison, who unfortunately got injured right away and forced the recall of Isaac Ratcliffe, who made his NHL debut on Saturday. This is in addition to the continued absences of forwards Morgan Frost and Gerry Mayhew, who are becoming regulars in the Flyers’ lineup of late. With the turbulent season in Philadelphia, it’s easier to count the players who haven’t spent time with the Flyers at this point.
Lehigh Valley jumped on the board just eight minutes into the game with O’Reilly’s first of the game and seventh of the season. It was a mixed bag on special teams for both squads as the Phantoms came up with two shorthanded goals but empty on two power-play chances, and O’Reilly was able to pounce on a Bears miscue to open the scoring. Vecchione answered with his first of the game and eighth of the season on the power play, firing through a screen late in the second period set by Mason Morelli to even the count at one.
In the third period, the Bears jumped ahead with Vecchione’s second of the game, ninth of the season, as a nifty deflection by the crafty forward on a Lucas Johansen shot gave the Bears the lead. With Adam Clendening in the box on a delay of game call, it seemed to be Hershey’s game for the taking, but O’Reilly tallied his second goal of the game when he beat Hershey’s defenders to a loose puck and roofed it past Fucale to even the count at two. It was the second time this season that the Phantoms put up a pair of shorthanded goals in the same game against the Bears and shifted the momentum with Sandin’s goal coming just over two minutes later to take the decision. It’s the second time this season at PPL Center where the Bears narrowly lost in the final moments, with a shot from Eddie Wittchow dribbling just wide of the net as time expired.
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) January 31, 2022
The loss for the Bears saw the team drop all three of the team’s road games in January, a worrying trend ahead of a February month where the team plays eight of 12 games away from Giant Center. The loss drops the Bears into third place in the fickle Atlantic Division standings, setting the stage for a critical matchup with the Hartford Wolf Pack on Wednesday at Giant Center. The winner will take over the top spot in the division. The Phantoms, meanwhile, pull to .500 at 14-14-6-2 this season and move into sixth place over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
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