HERSHEY, Pa. – Chris Bourque buried the 200th goal of his American Hockey League career, but it wasn’t enough for the Hershey Bears to complete the necessary three-goal comeback as the hosts fell to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins by a 4-3 score on Saturday night in front of a crowd of 10,612 at GIANT Center.
The Penguins stormed out of the gate, scoring twice in a span of 2:39 to take a 2-0 lead. Tom Kostopoulos won a puck battle in the left corner, fed a soft pass toward the bottom of the left circle and Dominik Simon had a nearly empty net behind Dan Ellis into which he deposited the puck at 9:01 for a 1-0 advantage.
Kostopoulos then set up Carter Rowney for a tap-in from the top of the crease at 11:40, and the visitors had the two-goal lead.
The Bears responded just 28 seconds later after a miscue by the Penguins’ defense. The puck was coughed up and with goaltender Brian Foster off of the right post, Liam O’Brien hurried a shovel-shot along the goal line and the puck caromed in at 12:08.
But Simon struck again, lunging out to redirect a slap-pass from Josh Archibald behind Ells at 17:39, and the Penguins led 3-1 at the intermission.
Just 49 seconds into the second, Josh Archibald whiffed on a penalty shot opportunity, but the visitors would find their fourth goal shortly afterward. Penguins forward Jarrett Burton was knocked down in front of the Hershey net, yet still got a stick on a Reid McNeill slap shot and deflected it over Ellis for a 4-1 lead. Justin Peters came on in relief of Ellis, and only had to make one save in the middle frame as the Bears turned up the heat.
Carter Camper made a high-skill redirection of a pass from Ryan Stanton, and the puck angled into the upper-right corner at 7:15 to cut the deficit to 4-2.
Bourque’s milestone goal came on a patented one-timer from the top of the right circle. The league’s leading scorer was fed by Christian Djoos at 6:04 for his 29th goal of the campaign and 10th on the power play.
Hershey could draw no closer, and the Penguins hung on to clinch a postseason berth.
Ellis took the loss with eight saves on 12 shots in 23:23 of work. Peters stopped all six shots in 34:38 of relief and earned no decision. The Bears finished the game 1-for-7 on the power play and 3-for-3 on the penalty kill.
The Bears head north to complete the home-and-home with the Penguins tomorrow, April 10. Face-off from Mohegan Sun Arena is set for 4:05 PM. Fans may catch the broadcast beginning at 3:25 PM on the Bears Radio Network of affiliates WQIC-FM 100.1, WKBO-AM 1230, WOYK-AM 1350 or online at WHP580.com. Fans may watch the game for a small fee at AHLLive.com.
The Bears return home to host the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Saturday, April 16. The first 5,000 fans will receive a Chris Bourque garden gnome figurine courtesy of Capital BlueCross.
Individual tickets are available at the GIANT Center box office, by calling (717) 508-BEAR or online at TicketMaster.com.
NOTES: Hershey’s magic number to clinch the Atlantic Division remains at six points…Chris Bourque tied his personal single-season best with his 29th goal of the year, matching his output from last season in Hartford…Bourque (160) is six goals shy of Alexandre Giroux (166) for 12th in all-time Hershey goal-scoring…The Bears scratched LW Paul Carey, G Adam Carlson, LW Kevin Elgestal, LW Dylan Margonari, D Mike Moore and LW Nathan Walker…The Penguins scratched RW Tyler Biggs, LW Sahir Gill, D Barry Goers, G Sean Maguire, LW Kael Mouillierat, D Steve Oleksy, D Harrison Ruopp and LW Dominik Uher.