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Shepard Backstops Bears Over Islanders

Hershey got the decision largely on a strong effort by goaltender Hunter Shepard, who made 42 saves on 44 total shots including 18 in the first period

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. – The Hershey Bears flipped the script after being shut out by the Providence Bruins on Friday night, taking a 4-2 decision over the Bridgeport Islanders on Saturday night. Hershey got the decision largely on a strong effort by goaltender Hunter Shepard, who made 42 saves on 44 total shots including 18 in the first period to lift the Bears to the win. A key shorthanded goal by Brian Pinho stood up as the winning goal as the Bears withstood the Islanders in the third period to snap a three-game winless streak away from home. Jakub Skarek suffered the loss in goal with 24 saves.

Shepard had his work cut out for him early and often, with a few key saves of his leading directly to Bears goals. Bridgeport reached double digits in shots in each of the three periods of play, and Shepard’s strong play made the difference in Hershey’s first two strikes. The first goal came after a sequence of several stops, and the Bears took the puck the other way for a goal from Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, his 15th of the season. Aliaksei Protas continued his strong play since returning from the Washington Capitals with the primary assist, feeding the speedy Swede for the tally. Hershey got another end-to-end goal in the second period when Shepard made two stops on an odd-man rush, and the Bears would feed Marcus Vela going the other way for his fifth of the season.

Pinho’s shorthanded goal came on the first power-play opportunity of the game for either team, but the credit on the goal largely goes to defenseman Lucas Johansen. The defenseman rushed the puck ahead shorthanded and fed Pinho for the team’s ninth shorthanded tally of the season, the second of two assists on the night for Johansen. The Bears would add one more before the second intermission, with Beck Malenstyn redirected a shot from Cody Franson with 18 seconds remaining to extend the lead to four with his fifth of the season. Bridgeport broke the shutout bid with Andy Andreoff’s tenth of the season and got within two when Felix Bibeau scored his first of the year and second in the AHL. Shepard and the Bears would hold off the Islanders, including a key stop on Michael Dal Colle on a power play in the last three minutes of play.

The Bears managed to rebound a day after being shut out by the Providence Bruins but must return to Dunkin’ Donuts Center for one more matchup before returning to Hershey. The winner of Sunday’s game will leave with third place in the Atlantic Division to their name, at least for the remainder of the day as the teams continue to duke it out for positioning. The top four teams are separated by only 0.024 percentage points, but the Bears find themselves at the bottom of those teams and rapidly being closed in on by the fifth-place Charlotte Checkers. Hershey and Providence will only play two more times after Sunday’s game, but each game looks closer to a potential playoff matchup between the two teams. Puck drop is scheduled for 3:05 PM.

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