Bears struggle in loss to Crunch
By Dustin Leed, Sports Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Missed opportunities for the Bears.
That's what cost Hershey two important points Saturday night.
Coming down the final stretch of the regular season and clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the AHL Eastern Conference with 75 points, the Bears came up empty on three power-play chances in the game's first 20 minutes.
Syracuse forward Ondrej Palat scored the eventual game-winning goal early in the third period, goalie Riku Helenius stopped 19 shots and the Bears struggled to generate scoring chances in a 2-1 loss to the Crunch at the Giant Center.
"It would have been nice to get one there," the Bears' Joey Crabb said. "It wasn't from a lack of effort, we just couldn't get it set up. They were doing a good job on the forecheck.
"It was frustrating, but [it was] just little mistakes that cost us."
Shortly after the Bears failed on their first power play opportunity, Jean-Philippe Cote opened the scoring.
The Crunch defenseman ripped a shot past Bears goalie Dany Sabourin's glove for his third of the year with less than 10 minutes left in the first period.
The Bears returned to the power play twice in row on boarding and interference calls against Syracuse trailing 1-0.
Lack of sustained pressure at even strength and on the power play in the first period found Hershey in the hole as they trailed Syracuse on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 9-6.
"Our power play in general going 0 for 4 [was a turning point]," Bears coach Mark French said. "Certainly, when we got those consecutive power plays [in the first period] turned out to be a pretty big turning point."
Hershey, which has seen four new faces dress over the last two games, missed on passes, committed giveaways and played sloppily for the first 20 minutes.
It's tough to form chemistry with new faces, "but that's our challenge," French said. "We made some changes because we thought we [needed them]. It's my job to find the chemistry and find what works in the short order."
The second period started the same for the Bears, who only recorded their first shot of the period with 8:27 left in the frame.
Even locker room and fan favorite Joel Rechlicz couldn't spark the team.
Just over five minutes in to the second period Rechlicz (149 PIMs) and Eric Neilson (125 PIMs) went toe-to-toe in an old-time hockey fight that energized the crowd. It was Rechlicz's first fight -- and first game -- since being re-acquired on Tuesday.
It wasn't until much later in the period that the Bears generated a legitimate scoring chance.
And they made it count.
On the Bears' third shot of the period with 55 seconds left, Crabb pounced on the rebound in front of Crunch goalie Helenius to tie the game at 1-1. Nate Schmidt and Jeff Taffe picked up assists on Crabb's second of the season. Recently signed, Schmidt, a highly touted rookie, picked up his first point in his first professional game.
"I just tried to jump in the play and [Taffe] made a great pass," Schmidt said. "I just tried to throw it on net … good things happen when there are scrums in front of the net."
Although the Bears came out of the second intermission with more jump in their step, it was the Crunch who broke the tie. 20-year-old Tanner Richard, picked up his first pro point when he set up winger Palat on a bang-bang passing play in front of Sabourin. Palat fired a one-timer in to the net at 16:10 of the third period.
Neither team recorded double-digit shots in any period but the Bears fired nine on net in the third but couldn't score the equalizer.
"I don't think [it has anything to do with chemistry]," Crabb said. "Most of the guys have been playing together full time.
"As far as the break-in [to the offensive zone], I think it was just them shutting us down. We need to figure something out and win battles."n