Crunch time for Bears
Hershey knocks off division-leading Syracuse, 5-3 BY KEVIN FREEMAN, Sports Writer
HERSHEY -- Earlier this season, being down two goals halfway through a hockey game would not have been a good place for the Hershey Bears to be.
With that deficit, the prospects for winning were slim.
And while there's no prediction for a complete turnaround of that trend, lately the Bears have produced the possibility that all is not lost when they face that circumstance.
Trailing 3-1 Sunday, Jeff Taffe's two second-period goals tied the game at 3-3, and Jon DiSalvatore got the go-ahead goal midway through the third as the Hershey Bears completed their second come-from-behind win in as many games with a 5-3 decision over the Syracuse Crunch at the Giant Center.
Goalie Philipp Grubauer came on in relief of Hershey starter Dany Sabourin and stopped all 20 shots he saw to get the win.
The Bears (64 points) have won three straight, tying a season-high, and leap-frogged the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (63) into sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings. They moved one game over .500 (14-13-3-2) at home with the win.
"(Earlier in the season), once we gave up that third goal, we'd sit back and think, well, we can't score that much,'' Taffe said. "But ... we've got some new guys in here. (Casey) Wellman adds another offensive dimension so it's given us more confidence that if we get down a few we can come back.''
Adding gravitas to the win was that it came against Syracuse, the top team in the Eastern Conference, the top road team in the league and the highest-scoring team in the league. The win was the first for the Bears against the Crunch in four tries this season.
"A key to our success in the long run is to start playing great hockey right now, to lead into the playoffs,'' said Hershey defenseman Cameron Schilling. Schilling was credited with the game-winner, coming at 11:16 in the third period. But after the game, DiSalvatore said he redirected the puck in a crowd to get it past Syracuse goalie Cedrick Desjardins (14 saves). So, it's likely the league will change credit for the goal.
On the play, Taffe got the puck back to Schilling, who came into the deep slot for a shot. He partially fanned on the shot but the puck made it to DiSalvatore, who was crowding the area in front of Desjardins with a pair of Crunch players.
The puck made it through everything and past Desjardins, thanks to DiSalvatore's nudge.
The Bears were strong on the puck at the game's start and grabbed a 1-0 lead when DiSalvatore converted Taffe's pass from behind the net. But the lead was short-lived, with former Bear Kyle Wilson whisking a rebound past Sabourin two minutes later.
Syracuse took a 2-1 lead with 34.2 seconds to play in the first when Tyler Johnson rifled his league-leading 29th goal past Sabourin's glove. The Crunch pushed their lead to 3-1 when Evan Oberg's point shot ricocheted off Johnson's skate. Oberg was credited with the goal.
Hershey coach Mark French switched goalies at that point "sensing we needed something to change,'' he said.
French may have been looking to spark the offense with the move. The Bears' first shot of the period came 9:02 into the period. The move may not have moved the needle on the shot total but it did on the goal total. In fact, Hershey had only four shots in the period (three by Taffe) and two of the shots went in.
Taffe drew the Bears within one of a tie when he one-timed Steve Oleksy's pass, which came off a 3-on-1 break. Four minutes later, he appeared to be backing up when his wrist shot from the right faceoff circle beat Desjardins.
"The ol' knucklepuck got him,'' Taffe said.
In the third period, Desjardins turned aside Hershey's Ryan Stoa on a couple of close-in scoring chances, but couldn't stop DiSalvatore from giving Hershey the lead.
Taffe wasn't about to argue with the way the Bears won the game but said the team shouldn't make a habit of it.
"It's actually a little scary,'' he said. "We're a better team when playing with the lead. We're more of a grinding team. We can't be running and gunning with a team like that.
"But Grubauer came in and made some big saves and I think (Syracuse) got a little tired at the end of the game and we took advantage.''
Notes: Hershey is 5-0-1-1 in the last seven at Giant Center. ... The Bears are off until Friday when they will play the Admirals in Norfolk both Friday and Saturday. They return home to face Binghamton at 5 p.m. Sunday. ... Bears have 19 games remaining in the regular season but only six at home.