Penguins Let Lead Slip Away Against Red-hot Bears
WILKES-BARRE TWP. —One of the biggest reasons the Hershey Bears have rattled off points in 16 straight games is the consistent production of its top forward line.
And in a game that had a playoff feel on Friday night, Riley Barber, Mike Sgarbossa and Liam O’Brien drew their squad one step closer to the real thing.
Barber completed a hat trick in the closing seconds with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins net empty, and Sgarbossa and O’Brien each had two assists as Hershey posted a 4-2 win at Mohegan Sun Arena.
The Penguins took the lead on two goals from Ryan Haggerty in the second period but, for the fourth time in five games, let that lead slip away in the third period. Hershey tied it at 2 in the opening minute after a Penguins mental lapse led to a 2-on-1 and yet another goal from Jayson Megna.
“I thought for 40 minutes, we were fine,” Penguins head coach Clark Donatelli said. “Then we come out for the third period, (Matt) Abt goes down in the corner, and then all three of our forwards go down there and we give up a 2-on-1. Tie ball game. Then we’re on our heels.
“It’s a mindset. The guys making mistakes are older guys, they’re not our young guys. We’ve just got to keep with it.”
Megna has been a thorn in the Penguins’ (25-22-5-2) side all season with eight goals against them, but Barber and his linemates really made the most of Hershey’s new life.
Barber was left unchecked in the slot after a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton turnover and scored at 16:19, forcing the Penguins to pull goaltender Tristan Jarry. Jean-Sebastien Dea had a good look in front denied by goaltender Vitek Vanecek with 16 seconds remaining, and Barber found a little bit of puck luck when his desperation clear trickled into the empty cage in the closing seconds.
The win was Hershey’s eighth against the Penguins this season, and it moved six points ahead of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the Atlantic Division playoff race. That doesn’t seem like a huge margin with 22 games left in the regular season, but the urgency to start stringing together wins is reaching a fever pitch with Providence and Lehigh Valley also ahead.
“I think we need to do it now,” defenseman Zach Trotman said. “You look at the standings and they’re tight, but trying to gain four, five points on a team isn’t easy this time of year. Those teams are ahead of you for a reason; they’ve been winning games, so you’ve got to do something special to gain traction.
“We don’t have time to wait around and hope that things get better. We’ve got to do it right now.”
Hershey, which has been an AHL team since 1940, set a franchise record by extending its point streak.
The silver lining for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was Haggerty, who continued his torrid scoring pace with his fourth and fifth goals in the team’s last four games. His line with Ryan Scarfo and Jarrett Burton was often the Penguins’ best on the ice.
Haggerty utilized a screen in front of Vanecek at 9:08 of the middle frame and buried a wrist shot shortly after off a nice cross-ice pass from Joseph Cramarossa.
But it was little consolation to the Penguins, who ended up with their 15th loss on home ice this season in another trend that has continued to haunt them as the playoff chase heats up.
“I think we’re playing to lose,” forward Ben Sexton said. “We have a lead going into the third period at home, that should be a win every time. That’s a step we need to make as a team. It’s us in the room that need to figure that out.”
Hershey 0 1 2 — 3
Penguins 0 2 0 — 2
First period: Scoring — None. Penalties - None.
Second period: Scoring - 1, Her, Barber (Ness, Sgarbossa), 2:47 (PP); 2, WBS, Haggerty (Scarfo, Prow), 9:08; 3, WBS, Haggerty (Cramarossa), 14:58. Penalties - WBS, Trotman. interference 0:44, WBS, Blandisi, tripping 1:14; WBS, Abt, slashing 6:14; Her, Hobbs, slashing 11:43; Her, Lewington, roughing 15:36; WBS, Scarfo, roughing 15:36.
Third period: Scoring - 4, Her, Megna (O’Brien), 0:55; 5, Her, Barber (Sgarbossa, Gustafsson), 16:19; 6, Her, Barber, 19:57 (EN). Penalties - None.
Shots on goal: Her 9 12 9 - 30; WBS 7 13 12 - 32.
Goaltenders: Her, Vanecek (30 saves on 32 shots); WBS, Jarry (26 saves on 29 shots).
Power-play opportunities: Her 1 for 3; WBS 0 for 1.
Referees: Andrew Bruggeman and Corey Syvret. Linesmen: Patrick Hanrahan and Bill Lyons.
1. Hershey F Riley Barber, hat trick
2. Penguins F Ryan Haggerty, two goals
3. Hershey F Mike Sgarbossa, two assists
By the numbers
0 — players that have appeared in every Penguins game this season. Forward Adam Johnson was scratched for the first time on Friday, leaving the Penguins with no more candidates for an ironman regular season.
Forwards: Sam Miletic-Joseph Blandisi-J.S. Dea
Jimmy Hayes-Sam Lafferty-Ben Sexton
Ryan Scarfo-Jarrett Burton-Ryan Haggerty
Joseph Cramarossa-Linus Olund-Anthony Angello
Defensemen: Kevin Czuczman-Zach Trotman
Chris Summers-Macoy Erkamps
Goaltenders: Tristan Jarry-Anthony Peters
• Devante Smith-Pelly, who was assigned to Hershey by the Capitals on Thursday, had yet to join the team as of Friday afternoon and was not in the lineup.
• The game started roughly 10 minutes late, as the Hershey bus arrived at the arena behind schedule. Intermissions were shortened as a result.
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is back in action at 3:05 Sunday for its second and final game against the Rockford IceHogs.
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