HERSHEY, PA – They say you gotta be good to be lucky. After a roller coaster ride start of the season for the Hershey Bears specialty team units, skill and luck proved to be the successful recipe for the Bears. Penalty killing and timely power play goals led Hershey to a 5-1 victory over the Syracuse Crunch on Friday night.
Despite facing 5:51 of penalty killing, it took Vitek Vanecek eight minutes and thirty-seven seconds to see a shot on goal. A tough deflection proved to be no problem for the rookie. Vanecek would make another nice save in front just after the double minor expired. It proved to be a huge save because on the ensuing faceoff Chris Bourque threw the puck up into the offensive zone. Jakub Vrana raced by Dominik Masin to pick it up and beat Sean Wilcox to give Hershey the 1-0 lead.
With all the injuries Hershey has been dealing with, the Bears needed somebody like Liam O’Brien just as he did on Wednesday to step up once again. He would not let his team down tonight. With Syracuse on another powerplay, O’Brien was aggressive in forcing the Crunch to turn the puck over and then drew a tripping call in his offensive zone to make it four-on-four. Once Hershey’s penalty expired they would capitalize on the powerplay O’Brien had drawn almost immediately. Christian Thomas deked around Matt Taormina with a pretty curl and drag move and then fired a wrist shot through the five-hole to extend Hershey’s lead to 2-0 with 7:26 left to play in the first. After Wilcox allowed two goals on four shots, Syracuse had seen enough and called upon Kristers Gudlevskis to take over in goal.
The new netminder’s fortunes weren’t much better than Wilcox’s. Two minutes after coming into the game Chris Bourque spun and threw a prayer toward the net from the goal line. The puck deflected off of Gudlevskis’ right leg and in for the 3-0 lead.
Discipline issues were again a problem for the chocolate and white tonight. Hershey is fourth in the eastern conference with 70 times shorthanded and was whistled for five penalties in the first period alone. If not for timely saves by Vanecek, good shot blocking by the Bears PK unit and poor shooting by Syracuse, this result could have been very different.
A little luck finally went the Crunch’s way to start the second period. With Garrett Mitchell leaving the penalty box, Cory Conacher fired a shot toward the Bears goal. Tanner Richard got enough of the shot to stop the puck but Tyler Lewington inadvertently knocked it into his own net in an attempt to clear Richard from the crease. Syracuse had some life just 33 seconds into the second frame.
The aforementioned luck for Syracuse would not last long. The Crunch got two more high-quality chances within the period’s first five minutes only to be beaten by the post on both occasions The second period after that was relatively uneventful and ended with a 3-1 score.
Syracuse seemingly had the momentum after three more powerplay opportunities. They outshot Hershey 11-6 in the second and had the majority of the chances in the third period. The combined effort of Bears players blocking shots and Vitek Vanecek in goal kept the Crunch off the board.
Special teams had already been a major factor in this one when the Bears power play scored its second of the night with 4:11 remaining in regulation. Christian Thomas slapped home his second of the night off a nice give and go play with Liam O’Brien on the powerplay.
Chris Bourque added another for good measure on another power play with 30 seconds to go. It was a big goal because Paul Carey got an assist on the play which extended his point streak to 11 straight games.
After a rough three in three last weekend and with the injury situation the way it is this was a very important win for Hershey. They take four of six potential points this week with a game tomorrow. The Bears penalty kill was on point killing off nine Syracuse power plays. The Bears power play also had a good night going three for five good for second in the division with 17.8 % effectiveness.
It wasn’t all good news for the Bears though as Madison Bowey left with an injury after the second period. Head coach Troy Mann has already ruled Bowey out for tomorrow’s game against Wilks-Barre. Additionally, three forwards left Washington’s game against Detroit with injuries and did not return. With a game on Sunday, the possibility exists that the Capitals may require a call-up from Hershey. Salary cap issues would require one of the injured Capitals to be placed on long-term injured reserve in order for Jakub Vrana to be called up. Paul Carey is most likely to be on his way up should the move be necessary. If Washington requires a center, Chandler Stephenson who had three assists and is considered Hershey’s top center would be the best option.
The bears finish off the week at home tonight at 7 pm against the division leading Wilks-Barre Scranton Penguins.