After winning game 3 in overtime on Wednesday night, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms came into the Giant Center in Hershey, PA with a chance to even the series up at two games. With the possibility of a decisive game 5 tomorrow night in Allentown, the feeling in the arena is one of nervousness. To be honest, the Hershey Bears have been the poorer team in the series, but they found themselves with the lead due to a pair of away wins in the first two games. They did that while having the lead for a combined 33 seconds in those games.
Back in Hershey, however, they played an extremely strong game but came away with the loss. Only scoring one goal in the third game, the Bears held the lead for a good portion of the match. It was only when Pheonix Copley let in a goal from center ice that the momentum seemed to swing back into the Phantoms’ favor, and Chris Conner became to overtime hero.
Now, with the series being led by the Bears at 2-1, they had a chance to move on once again on home ice.
The game started with the Phantoms getting some great pressure on Pheonix Copley, but nothing was coming off it. They seemed to utilize shots from the point early with Samuel Morin shooting through with traffic in front. Maxim Lamarche took a shot from the point that found the stick of Cole Bardreau for a deflection, but Copley flashed his leg out to make the save. Bardreau fell on the play, and Colby Williams was called for hooking only 3 minutes into the game.
On the Phantoms’ power play, they were able to generate a lot of shots, including one that caused Copley to slide from right-to-left to cover the puck up. After the puck became loose in front of the net, Travis Sanheim was caught with slashing a Bear off the play. Sanheim has not played up to his standards in this series so far and losing his cool there just adds to that. This turned the Phantoms’ power play into a 4-on-4 for a couple of seconds. The Bears would then go on the power play.
On their first power play of the game, the Bears were not able to generate any scoring chances on Martin Ouellette. Ouellette, a regular for the Reading Royals of the ECHL this season, was called upon in game 2 after Alex Lyon was injured in the third period. Mark Dekanich, his goaltending partner in Reading, backed up Ouellette in this game. The Royals’ playoff run ended earlier this week with a game 6 loss to the Brampton Beast.
Right after the halfway point of the 1st period, the Phantoms had a 2-on-1 opportunity with Scott Laughton roaring down the left side. To his right was Taylor Leier, and Laughton utilized the option to the right in Leier. Leier was slow in controlling the puck on his blade which gave Copley enough time to move laterally, and his eventual shot rose high over the crossbar.
After a Tyler Lewington giveaway in the Hershey zone, Andy Miele found Danick Martel all alone in front of Copley. As Martel grabbed the puck, he out-waited Pheonix Copley for the first goal of the game on a completely wide open net. That was a result of the turnover by Lewington, and at the 16:51 mark of the 1st period, the Phantoms were up 1-0.
The Phantoms had an extreme amount of shots in the 1st period as compared to the Bears. After the goal by Martel, they were up 11-3 in that category, and their 12th almost turned into a beautiful goal. Mark Alt sped into the Hershey zone but fumbled the puck. He continued to fish for it through his skates and made his way into the slot for a spin-around shot that Copley had to come up big for. It was an odd-looking save, too; Copley was very deep into his net, and the puck was almost saved on the goal line. At the end of the 1st, the score was 1-0 to the Phantoms.
Early in the 2nd period, Stanislav Galiev had a beautiful breakaway opportunity on Ouellette. Ouellette moved to a hybrid formation and saved the first Galiev shot with a swipe of the glove. The rebound dropped back to Galiev, but his shot was once again saved by Ouellette only for another shot needing to be saved after Galiev hacked away at it. With 3 saves in one sitting, Ouellette kept the Phantoms in the lead.
Mark Zengerle led the Phantoms charge with a 2-on-1 chance alongside Travis Sanheim. Using Tom Gilbert as a screen in front of Copley, his decided to shoot it instead of passing it to a speeding Sanheim. The decision was a smart one; Copley couldn’t get a good read on the puck, and it went by his blocker side to make it 2-0 at the 4:25 mark of the 2nd.
The Bears started getting a lot of chances on the Lehigh Valley goal, including one that was tipped just wide of the net. However, that all ended when Chandler Stephenson was penalized for interference. The ensuing power play for the Phantoms did not give them anything on the scoreboard, and the Bears were able to kill it off.
Just a short few minutes later, Stephenson skated into the Phantoms’ zone without any help from his teammates and wristed a shot by Martin Ouellette’s blocker, one he could have easily saved. This made it 2-1 at the 15:04 mark, and the Bears’ offense came alive after that. In fact, it started surging.
Ouellette was forced to make a brilliant save on a baseball swing to the left of his body in addition to a few other shots in the slot. The Phantoms’ Danick Martel took a penalty for roughing just slightly after the Bears’ goal, and Hershey’s offense was able to begin surging. The crowd was absolutely into the game at this point.
Ryan Bourque of the Bears took an interference call right after their power play ended, and that ended the Bears’ offensive surge for that time being. On the power play, Danick Martel was all alone in front of the net with an amazing opportunity to re-pad the Phantoms’ lead, but Pheonix Copley’s pad was there to make a defining save. The period ended with the Phantoms leading 2-1.
In the 3rd period, Colby Williams stole the puck on a bad turnover by the Phantoms in their defensive zone. Williams had a man on the right side opening up for a one-timer, but Williams had a lot of room in front of him to shoot. He decided to pass it across, and the puck was sticked away by a Phantoms defender before it could get across the ice.
Not even a minute later, Scott Laughton stormed down the ice and bit both Tom Gilbert and Christian Djoos into the Bears’ zone. On this partial breakaway, Laughton’s shot rose over the shoulder of Pheonix Copley for a goal to make it 3-1 for the Phantoms at the 4:48 mark of the 3rd.
After Samuel Morin had multiple opportunities to put the Phantoms up by 3, Cole Bardreau and Hubert Labrie both took penalties to make it 4-on-4. Travis Boyd was almost able to dipsy-doo his way past Ouellette, but the Phantoms’ netminder stood big to make the save.
The Phantoms had all the chances until Zengerle took a penalty for boarding late in regulation. On the power play, the puck fell right in front of Martin Ouellette and was shot on goal in the slot. Ouellette made a fantastic save to keep the Bears at bay for that moment, but they were starting to gain momentum. At one point, the puck rolled over his shoulder and just away from the goal line.
With time not on the side of the Bears, they won a faceoff in the offensive zone with 3:37 left and an empty net. The Phantoms were doing a fantastic job killing off the clock and clogging up the middle of the ice. Hershey was unable to get any momentum in the offensive zone, and the Laughton was able to put one in the empty net to force a game 5 tomorrow afternoon.
FINAL: Lehigh Valley 4-1
SHOTS: Lehigh Valley 38-28
- The Phantoms’ leading scorer throughout the first three games of the series is the overtime hero in game 3, Chris Conner. The 33-year old veteran put up 56 points in 70 games this year with the Phantoms, and his lone goal of the series to this point cut the Bears’ series lead in half. He actually had only one more point in 12 more games played this season as compared to last.
- For the Bears, the always-fantastic Stanislav Galiev is the points leader. With 4 points through the first three games of the series, Galiev has continued his fantastic season. ‘Stan’, as the Hershey fans know him, scored 40 points through 56 regular season games with the Bears this season.
- Jakub Vrana was scratched tonight and might not play tomorrow in game 5. Troy Mann, the coach of the Bears, said that he was “irrelevant” in the first three games of the series and has not played a complete game.
- Both this series and the other Atlantic series are going to a game 5. It’s very interesting that the best division in the AHL will all see its teams on the verge of either moving on or being sent home. What is even more interesting is the fact that the two best teams in the league – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Lehigh Valley – might be sent home tomorrow night.
- Troy Mann was happy with how Chandler Stephenson played after spending the last two weeks of the year with the Washington Capitals. He said he was part of the best line tonight for the Bears. He was also happy with how Christian Thomas played tonight who was in for Vrana.
The Looking Ahead
Tomorrow night is game 5 in this series. Whoever wins that game advances to the division final. The Bears have absolutely looked like the worse team throughout this series, but the curse of the home game seems to be in full motion now. Will the Phantoms be able to break that and advance on home ice, or with the Bears be able to salvage a win to avoid the reverse sweep? We will find out tomorrow as game 5 starts at 5:05.
The next scheduled Bears game for GNGHockey will be April 30 in game 5 against the Phantoms.
Dylan Coyle is a writer and the founder of Good Night, Good Hockey. He is also a Philadelphia Flyers, Hershey Bears, and Reading Royals reporter. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanRCoyle_BSH.