It’s the home stretch of the 2012-13 regular season and the Hershey Bears entered Friday on the outside looking into the playoff picture. With the Norfolk Admirals, Connecticut Whale and Manchester Monarchs also in action, a pair of out of town losses combined with a Bears win could up rise Hershey back into playoff potential.
With a Connecticut 3-2 loss later followed by a Norfolk 6-1 road defeat, a bright light of opportunity shined on Hershey to make a rising dash in the standings. Rather than melting under the pressure of a must-win game, NHL Trade Deadline addition Michael Latta scored a late-game third period goal to give the Bears a 2-1 win over the Adirondack Phantoms.
Although it ended as a sweet victory for the Chocolate and White, it was an up hill battle beginning with the Phantoms’ first goal of the contest at the 18:17 mark of the first period. After a lost 50-50 battle, Jason Akeson gained the face off circle to the left of Philipp Grubauer. As Grubauer aggressively slid out from the blue paint to play the angle, Akeson unleashed a high snap shot into the cage for a 1-0 Adirondack lead.
Although the Bears were down 1-0 at first intermission, the deficit could have easily been 3-0 without the help of an iron frame behind Grubauer. Constantly searching for a quick, out-let pass for a breakaway, Adirondack received two one-on-one chances but was robbed both times by the goalie’s best friend.
Into the second period of a defensive battle, Hershey tied the game with a late period strike of their own. Cameron Schilling scored on the rebound of a Ryan Potulny shot with only 1:33 remaining in the middle stanza. The goal was well rewarded after several great shifts in the second period where the Bears cycled the puck relentlessly.
One could argue the oncoming third period would be the most important frame for Hershey this season. With out of town scores opening doors for Hershey, the biggest task at hand would be to harmlessly enter while the opportunity existed.
Michael Latta reported to Hershey following a historic Capitals trade involving Swedish prospect Filip Forsberg. Latta’s first goal with his new club was the game-winner with only 4:41 left in regulation and sent the Bears to a needed win over Adirondack. Nicolas Deschamps sent a crisp cross-ice saucer pass when a quick 2-on-1 rush opened in the low slot. Latta received the tape-to-tape pass and sent a shot over the sprawling leg pad of Cal Heeter.
With Hershey’s win, the magic number has lowered to five with two games remaining. Hershey, Norfolk, Connecticut and Manchester are all tied with 79 points in the standings and squeeze from seventh to tenth in the Conference standings. Only two of the four teams will clinch a playoff berth. Of the four teams hunting for a postseason spot, the Whale have one more game played than the other three contenders.