HERSHEY, Pa. – Dustin Gazley scored two goals and Philipp Grubauer made 31 saves, as the Hershey Bears managed to fend off a furious Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins rally in a 5-4 victory on Saturday night in front of a sold-out crowd of 10,890 at GIANT Center.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton got on the board first, after the Bears were successful on two penalty kills. Brendan Mikkelson pulled up along the right half wall, and sent a diagonal pass to a cutting Bobby Farnham. The winger then snapped a shot past the blocker of goaltender Philipp Grubauer at 12:01 for a 1-0 lead.
But for the second consecutive night, Hershey would knot the score inside the final minute. Working their third power play of the period, the Bears broke the Penguins’ coverage down with two quick passes. David Kolomatis fed Nate Schmidt on the top of the right circle, and Schmidt quickly ripped a pass back over to the left side. Casey Wellman grabbed the puck and fired a wrist shot over the shoulder of netminder Eric Hartzell at 19:39.
The Bears attacked early in the second and grabbed their first lead on a nice passing play started by Wellman. His feed from the left side found Tyson Strachan cutting down the right wing. Strachan then fired a perfect cross-crease pass and with Hartzell out of position, Gazley had a tap-in just 32 seconds into the frame.
Hershey then put on a show of puck possession, keeping the puck on the offensive side of center ice for a large time frame. The club again struck inside the period’s final minute to take a 3-1 lead at the intermission. Julien Brouillette sent a feed from the left point backdoor for Dane Byers, who in turn backhanded a pass in front. Ryan Potulny had his stick blade down perfectly to tap the puck past Hartzell with 25 seconds left in the middle period.
Midway through the third, the Bears would open a 4-1 lead when Byers cut to the net front and tapped the rebound of a Patrick Wey shot behind Hartzell.
Following the goal and a few moments after Hartzell made a sprawling attempt at stopping a rebound, the netminder would leave the game. Jeff Deslauriers came on in relief just after the halfway point of the third period, and immediately faced a Hershey power play. Gazley one-timed a Jeff Taffe pass home at 12:52 for a 5-1 Bears advantage.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton immediately responded with a goal from Nick Drazenovic at 13:34, and grabbed the momentum from there. The Bears took two penalties, giving the Penguins a two-man advantage for 1:48. On the chance, Brian Gibbons would cut the Bears’ lead to two with a wrist shot from the bottom of the right circle.
Then, with Deslauriers on the bench for a sixth attacker and with time ticking down, Jayson Megna walked out from the left corner and stuffed a shot past Grubauer with 16.6 seconds left to play, cutting the Bears’ lead to 5-4.
The Bears were able to hold on for the win, getting their 12th consecutive victory at GIANT Center and improving to 28-17-2-3 on the season. The win moves the Bears into second place in the East Division, and improves the club’s home record to a conference-best 19-6-1-3.
The Bears and Penguins will meet again tomorrow, February 16 at 4:05 PM at Mohegan Sun Arena. Hershey returns home to host the Syracuse Crunch next Saturday, February 22 at 7:00 PM. Tickets for this and all remaining home games 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, D Steve Oleksy, LW Nathan Walker, D Patrick Wellar and LW Derek Whitmore…Hershey finished the night 2-for-6 on the power play and 4-for-5 on the penalty kill…G Philipp Grubauer improved to 7-1-0 in his last eight starts since returning from Washington, and won his fifth straight start…LW Dane Byers extended his point streak to four games with his two points tonight…The Bears improved to 20-0-0-1 when scoring four or more goals…The Bears matched the Texas Stars for the longest home winning streak of the season.