HERSHEY, Pa. – Zach Sill and Jakub Vrana both scored twice – accounting for half of the Hershey Bears’ output – and a near-perfect special teams performance aided in vaulting the visitors to an 8-2 rout of the Toronto Marlies on Wednesday night at Ricoh Coliseum. The win gave the Bears a 3-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Dustin Gazley started things off, banging in the rebound of a shot from Aaron Ness behind Toronto starter Antoine Bibeau at 3:02.
The Marlies would then strike twice in a span of 2:03 to claim a 2-1 lead. First, Josh Leivo completed a two-on-one down low with Mark Arcobello, chipping a bouncing puck behind Justin Peters at 6:06.
Ben Smith later fired a breakaway pass to Colin Smith to put the Marlies in front. Collecting a head-man pass, the latter Smith took off and snapped a shot high into the Hershey net at 8:09.
The Bears found themselves down two men for a short time, but Peters and the penalty kill came up huge to keep the Marlies’ lead at one goal.
Hershey rode the momentum of their penalty kill into the middle stanza. Chris Bourque tied the contest, firing a long-range slap shot right through Bibeau’s pads at 6:12.
The tie held until the clock ticked inside the final minute of the period. Erik Burgdoerfer took a shot from the center point that Bibeau blocked aside, but the puck came right to Zach Sill for the put-back at 19:07 and a 3-2 Hershey lead.
A rare helmet violation penalty to Aaron Ness would put Toronto on the power play to start the third, but it was Hershey that put the game out of reach, scoring two shorthanded goals on the same penalty kill. Sill first swiped the puck away in the neutral zone, changed directions, flew down the right side and fired a shot that rolled over Bibeau and over the goal line just 18 seconds into the period to give the Bears a 4-2 advantage.
Garret Sparks came on in relief after Sill’s second tally, and didn’t fare much better. Chandler Stephenson would poke the puck away from the Marlies at center ice, where Ryan Bourque picked it up and headed the other way all alone. The first shot Sparks faced slipped through his pads for a 5-2 Hershey lead.
Vrana, who was denied by Bibeau on a second-period breakaway, beat Sparks at 5:13 with a snap shot from the right circle. The puck squirted through Sparks’ arm for the rookie’s sixth goal of the postseason.
The Bears didn’t need power play time in this game, but would earn their first opportunity as Sam Carrick took a high-sticking penalty during the Vrana’s goal celebration. On the advantage, Christian Djoos buried his first career playoff goal, banking in a pass from Nathan Walker at 6:12.
Vrana would end the scoring, converting a partial breakaway at 16:14.
The Bears’ special teams effort featured a 1-for-3 power play, a 6-for-6 penalty kill and two shorthanded goals.
Peters made 26 saves on 28 shots and improved to 10-4 in the postseason. Bibeau took the loss, allowing four goals on 18 shots in 39:55 of work. Sparks earned no decision, stopping seven of 11 shots faced in 19:42 of relief work.
The Bears and Marlies face off in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday, May 27. The puck drops at Ricoh Coliseum at 7:30 PM. Fans may watch the game on abc27.3, available locally in central Pennsylvania on Comcast 245, Verizon Fios 462, Blue Ridge 226, Kuhn 69 and Nittany 227. Fans without abc27.3 access may catch the broadcast on the Bears Radio Network of affiliates WQIC-FM 100.1, WKBO-AM 1230, WOYK-AM 1350 (in progress), via the Capitals Mobile App (Caps Radio 24/7), the iHeartRadio App (WHP 580 Harrisburg), or online at CapsRadio247.com or WHP580.com. Fans may also watch the game for a small fee at AHLLive.com.
NOTES: Chris Bourque’s two-point game pushed him into Hershey’s all-time playoff points lead, passing the legendary Mike Nykoluk (20-54-74)…Bourque’s assist tied him with Jason Krog for second place in all-time AHL assists (76)…Hershey won for the second time in three games when trailing after the first period…Hershey extended its overall winning streak to four games…Carter Camper’s assist extended his point streak to an AHL playoff-best nine games (6-6-12), and his second assist tied him for the postseason scoring lead (6-9-15)…Jakub Vrana’s two goals pull him into a tie for the AHL rookie goal-scoring lead (seven)…Dustin Gazley’s goal extended his point streak to four games (2-2-4)…The Bears scratched RW Riley Barber, LW Paul Carey, D Connor Hobbs, LW Domenic Monardo, D Mike Moore and D Colby Williams… The Marlies scratched D Travis Dermott, RW Matt Frattin, C Fredrik Gauthier, RW Andreas Johnson, D David Kolomatis, LW Tobias Lindberg and D Viktor Loov.