WILKES-BARRE, PA. — There was a big time matchup inside Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza Friday night with Atlantic Division playoff implications on the line.
With a win, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins would move just two points out of the final postseason berth. Conversely, a Hershey win would move them six points clear of the Penguins and set a franchise record with points in 16 consecutive contests.
Riley Barber had a hat trick, Jayson Megna added a goal, and Vitek Vanecek made 28 saves to lead the Bears to a crucial victory.
After a scoreless first, things opened up in the middle frame. Zach Trotman and Joseph Blandisi took back to back penalties in the opening minutes, leading to 90 seconds of a five-on-three for the Bears. Just as Trotman’s interference penalty ended, Hershey took the lead. Great puck movement by the Bears found Barber open in the left circle, and the Penguins were suddenly trailing.
One of the hottest Penguins of late has been Ryan Haggerty. Coming into the contest, he had accounted for seven goals in his last ten games, and Friday night, he almost led the Penguins to the win. Seven minutes after Barber’s tally, some fancy stickhandling found Haggerty working himself to the slot, where he beat Vitek Vanecek under the arm to knot the game at one. It was his 14th goal of the season, with Ryan Scarfo and Ethan Prow collecting assists.
Just under six minutes later, Haggerty struck again. Jumping off the bench, he joined Joseph Cramarossa on an odd-man rush, and his wrist shot from the near circle clanged off the far post and in, giving the Penguins a lead that they would take to the locker room.
Unfortunately for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Megna is still a Hershey Bear. No matter where he has played, he has tormented his former employer, and this time, it took just 55 seconds into the third period. Liam O’Brien forced a neutral zone turnover and sent him in on a breakaway. He went forehand-backhand and beat Tristan Jarry. That was Megna’s 13th goal of the season and his eighth against the Penguins this campaign alone.
The Penguins made a push, but it wasn’t enough. Their best chances came in the final minute with Jarry pulled. Ben Sexton and Sam Lafferty had great chances down low in a scrum, but Vanecek kept the puck out. With three seconds left, Barber completed the hat trick from 175 feet into the open net, guaranteeing the Bears their franchise record and a ten-game winning streak.
Notes: This is the first time, dating back to the Penguins’ inception in 1999, that Hershey has won five gamers in a season at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza. Adam Johnson missed the game for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton due to illness, meaning there won’t be a Penguin to play in every game this season.
Up Next: The Penguins stay home for a matchup with the Rockford Icehogs Sunday at 3:05 pm EST.