WILKES-BARRE, PA- One-goal defensive battles seem to be the name of the game when Hershey comes to town to take on the Penguins. Sunday afternoon was no different as hot Hershey riding a six-game point streak visited the second-placed Penguins. The hometown team continued its dominance over the Bears in a 3-2 back and forth game for their fifth straight win over Hershey.
The scoring got off to a quick start in this one. By winning puck battles and keeping the puck in the Bears hemmed in the Penguins for an extended shift. Connor Hobbs stepped in from the blue line to keep the puck down low. The puck bounced to Travis Boyd below the goal line and he fought off a Penguin defender. As he skated directly behind Casey DeSmith’s net, Boyd threw a no look, behind the back pass a la Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov right to Riley Barber who one-timed it Home for the 1-0 Bears lead.
Shortly after the Barber goal, Tom Kostopoulos provided the response for Wilkes-Barre. Zach Sill attempted to check Gage Quinney on the point and missed allowing Quinney a lane. He skated down low in the zone and found Tom Kostopoulos in the slot and the veteran buried it to make it 1-1 51 seconds after the Bears goal.
After the quick scoring start, the game went quietly in terms of goals for a long time. Teams traded rushes and zone time but the offense was absent until the second period. Wilkes-Barre earned its first power play opportunity of the game at 14:38 of the second. Adam Johnson standing in front deflected an Ethan Prow shot down and past Phenoix Copley to give them the 2-1 lead.
Much like the Bears initial lead, this advantage was short-lived for the Penguins. Pinpoint passing from Hershey 1:12 after the Johnson goal evened the scoring back up. Wayne Simpson looked cross-ice to Nathan Walker who then passed back to the right to Tyler Graovac. DeSmith was caught out of position and Graovac playing in his 300th professional game scored into the open cage tying the game back up.
In the third period, the Penguins kicked up the pressure. Hershey was caught in their own zone with a long shift when they broke the puck free. They saw a chance for a three-on-one break but all missed the puck. As a result, the Penguins picks up the loose puck, drew a delayed tripping call and raced into the Hershey end. Quinney was stopped by Copley but the rebound went right to Adam Johnson who scored his second of the game on the play.
This time around, the Bears were unable to find the answer. Liam O’Brien gave Hershey it’s best chance to tie the game with a shorthanded breakaway but he was denied. Tyler Graovac also got a chance on the same penalty kill but again was stopped. Hershey made one last desperate push under two minutes left with Copley on the bench. They kept the puck in the Penguins zone nearly the whole 1:30 left but couldn’t find the tying goal and fell 3-2 snapping their six-game point streak.
With the NHL trade deadline coming in 24 hours and an active trade market already moving, the Bears stirred thing up briefly before the game. Just before puck drop, Hershey announced that defender Lucas Johansen would be scratched and replaced by Tommy Hughes. Speculation flew he may have been involved in a Washington trade. The bears quickly quelled those rumors by announcing it was due to injury. Johansen did block a shot that shook him up and caused him to miss some time on Saturday night against Rockford.
Riley Barber’s goal gave him 19 on the season. The third-year Bear is approaching his career high of 26 which he set during his rookie campaign in 2015-16.
Hershey should have the benefit of Chris Bourque who returns from South Korea on Monday and the Bears are next in action on Friday. The Penguins will benefit from the return of Christian Thomas who had been with Team Canada.
Hershey begins March next weekend with another three-in-three weekend. They’ll travel to Lehigh on Friday and return home to Giant Center for Utica Saturday and the Phantoms on Sunday. They can ill afford many more regulation losses as the window for playoffs continues to tighten.
Wilkes-Barre, on the other hand, travels out to the midwest for a three-in-three of their own. They’ll face Grand Rapids on Friday, travel to Rockford Saturday and conclude the mini-midwest swing Sunday in Milwaukee.