HERSHEY, Pa. – On the heels of what has been (to this point) an inconsistent season, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins needed two points Wednesday at the GIANT Center. After struggling early in the season, the Hershey Bears brought a 12-game point streak into the contest, continuing their playoff push.
Something had to give.
Nathan Walker had a goal and an assist, Aaron Ness had two assists and Vitek Vanecek made 33 saves (including a stopped penalty shot in the third period) to lead the Bears to a crucial 4-3 shootout win in a tight Atlantic Division.
As has been a theme in 2018-19, the Penguins got behind early. Walker scored just 3:38 into the game, taking a pass from Beck Malenstyn at the top of the slot before beating Penguins netminder Tristan Jarry through. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton found their jump after that, limiting the Bears to just three more shots in the frame.
Kevin Czuczman would tally his fourth of the season on the power play a little over eight minutes later when, thanks to a textbook screen from Jarrett Burton, he beat Vanecek five-hole to tie the game. The Penguins peppered the Hershey goaltender with 14 shots, but he kept the game tied by making a handful of quality saves.
It appeared the second would be scoreless when a goal from an unlikely source gave the Penguins a lead heading into the final period. Anthony Angello found Jimmy Hayes streaking down the wing, with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton nearly on an odd-man rush, but Ryan Scarfo peeled off on a line change that forced Hayes to rip a shot. The puck found the back of the net inside the far post for Hayes’ seventh goal of the year.
Some bad puck luck and a delayed penalty led to Hershey tying the game early in the third. A shot took a bad hop off the boards, bouncing into a vacated crease. Ben Sexton saved a goal, but it led to the Penguins running around in their own end. Chris Summers tripped a man, and, with the extra attacker, Tyler Lewington scored from the point.
Just over four minutes later, Ryan Haggerty got a bounce of his own to re-establish a Penguin lead. A backhand centering pass was intended for Scarfo at the far post, but it never got there — the puck deflected off the skates of Hershey’s Brian Pinho and into the net.
After Vanecek stopped Adam Johnson on a penalty shot, ex-Penguin Jayson Megna continued his mastery of his former team, scoring a deflection goal to tie the game. Hershey scored again minutes later, but that goal was immediately washed out due to a high stick.
In the shootout, Riley Barber and Walker scored, while Vanecek stopped Sam Miletic and Hayes.
Impressions: This team faces an uphill climb, and there’s really no other way to spin it. There’s no magic they can find, there’s no free agent that is gonna come and save them at this point in the season. It’s not a good sign that when your leading scorer is called up, and that your active leading scorer is a defenseman. That’s not a slight on Ethan Prow, who is having a breakout season in his own right. It just shows how devoid of scoring they are up front. Guys like Johnson, who were on hot streaks, have cooled off.
I think the writing is on the wall that, without an extended winning streak, this team may miss the playoffs for the first time since 2001-2002.
Up Next: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton returns home Saturday, when they host the Utica Comets at 7:05 P.M. EST.