SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Matt Watkins and Casey Wellman accounted for all of the Hershey Bears’ offense, scoring two goals each, while Philipp Grubauer stopped 29 of 30 shots in his return from the NHL in a 4-1 win over the Syracuse Crunch on Friday night at the Onondaga County War Memorial Arena.
The Bears played an aggressive style in getting the puck deep into Syracuse territory from the drop of the puck. Wellman led the charge on one such play, getting one shot away from the slot that deflected into the right wing corner. Tyson Strachan swarmed in to get possession, and then fed Wellman for a one-timer from inside the right circle that sailed past the stick side of goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis at 6:53.
Grubauer did the rest in the opening period, stopping all 10 Syracuse chances, to keep the Bears in front at the intermission.
Wellman’s second of the game started on a beautiful pass from David Kolomatis. The blueliner threaded a perfect feed from the right point to the left faceoff dot, where Nicolas Deschamps collected it. Deschamps walked in and slid a pass toward the crease, where Wellman jockeyed for position before tipping it through the legs of Gudlevskis at 7:44 of the second period.
A failed Syracuse clear ended up turning into a 3-0 Hershey lead at 13:26. Kolomatis spotted Peter LeBlanc behind the Crunch defense and wide open at the front of the net. LeBlanc tried to deke to his backhand, but Gudlevskis denied his chance. The loose puck came back to an untouched Watkins, who then backhanded the puck into a virtually empty net.
Former Bears forward Jon DiSalvatore netted his second goal in as many games against Hershey to put Syracuse on the board 9:38 into the third. After Brett Connolly used his speed to carry the puck down the left wing, he took a shot from a bad angle that Grubauer knocked in front. DiSalvatore chipped at the puck to put it home before being challenged, cutting the Bears’ lead to two goals.
Gudlevskis was pulled for a sixth attacker with less than 3:00 left to play. At the 17:27 mark Dane Byers made a pass to Watkins from center ice, who skated to the right side and backhanded a rolling puck into the empty net, sealing the win.
Gudlevskis made 21 saves and fell to 10-6-2. Grubauer improved to 5-4-1 with the win.
The Bears improved to 20-14-3-3 with their third consecutive win.
The Hershey Bears and Syracuse Crunch will play a rematch at GIANT Center tomorrow, January 25 at 7:00 PM. The first 8,000 fans will receive a rally towel courtesy of Ames Janitorial Services. Tickets are available by calling (717) 508-BEAR, by stopping into the GIANT Center box office or by visiting TicketMaster.com.
NOTES: The Bears injury scratches were RW Stanislav Galiev, D Tomas Kundratek and RW Garrett Mitchell…The healthy scratches were LW John Mitchell, RW Joel Rechlicz, LW Ryan Stoa, D Patrick Wey and LW Derek Whitmore… Hershey finished the night 0-for-5 on the power play and 3-for-3 on the penalty kill…The Bears have killed off 41 of their last 45 penalties against – a span of 14 games – with their fifth consecutive perfect game on the penalty kill…The Bears snapped a five-game winless skid on Fridays, and an 0-3-2-0 slump in the first game of a three-in-three this season…D Steve Oleksy played in his first AHL game since March 3, 2013, also against Syracuse.