Despite a recent slide the last few weeks, the Hershey Bears entered Sunday’s matinee against the Norfolk Admirals with a golden opportunity to reclaim a playoff spot. A win over the Admirals would put the Bears at eighth in the Eastern Conference with about a month to play.
Norfolk was held to 12 shots the entire night Saturday in Wilkes-Barre en route to a shutout loss. The Chocolate and White had 12 shots under their belt within the first period against Adirondack before cruising to a 4-1 win.
In Hershey’s 2014 St. Patrick’s Day spectacle, the Admirals squeezed past the Bears by a 3-2 final. It was a heartbreaking, regulation defeat for the Chocolate and White, which puts them four points behind eighth seed Norfolk.
The opening 20 minutes is a strong candidate for worst overall period of the season. Within Hershey’s first three power play chances of the period, the Bears only tallied one shot on goal and continuously struggled to possess the puck offensively.
Norfolk played well in their defensive end, getting sticks in passing lanes and breaking up chances in the slot area. Ryan Stoa and Tyson Strachan were whistled with back-to-back minors in the late stages, leading to an Admirals’ power play goal.
Emerson Etem beat Philipp Grubauer after being pulled out of position with quick puck movement. Etem’s goal at the 17:22 mark put Hershey behind after the first period, leading to a choir of boo-birds as time expired on the scoreboard.
But Norfolk continued to have an extra jump in their step entering the second period, and took a 2-0 lead only 50 seconds into the middle stanza. Andre Petersson finished a cross-ice pass which alluded Grubauer, and extended his club’s lead to 2-0.
Michael Latta put Hershey on the scoreboard with 10:19 to play in the second period. Crashing the net front, Latta finished a bouncing puck on edge and slammed it past an out-stretched John Gibson.
Etem answered with his second of the night with 6:33 to play in the period, opening up a 3-1 deficit. The Bears again pulled within one goal late in the stanza, but in one of the most improbable ways. Killing a penalty, Strachan cleared the puck out of his defensive end from about 160 feet away from Gibson.
Gibson came out of his net to stop a bouncing puck, but knocked it into his own net. The goal at the 16:25 mark gave Hershey momentum before second intermission, as Gibson continued to look dazed at certain moments for the rest of the night.
But despite 16 third period shots on goal, the Bears could not break the adventurous Norfolk netminder and fell by a 3-2 count. A New England road trip is to follow, beginning Friday, March 21 in Providence.