It was another milestone night at Giant Center on Sunday when a night after Worcester head coach Roy Sommer celebrated his 500th career win, Hershey goaltender Braden Holtby stopped 34-of-35 salvos fired at him by the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to backstop his club to a 5-1 win. Holtby, in attaining his club’s 28th win of the season, also registered his 60th career win in the Chocolate and White.
After a rather lackluster 13:59 of first period play, things took a drastic change for the better for the Bears a second later when Ryan Potulny redirected Chris Bourque’s centering pass over the right shoulder of WBS netminder Brad Thiessen for his 16th goal of the season at 14:00. Bourque picked up the primary assist on the Potulny put-away and Patrick Wellar, who kept the play alive at the blueline with an impressive interception of an attempted clear by the visitors, picked up the secondary helper.
The Bears kept their foot on the accelerator and added a power play goal from Jacob Micflikier at 15:39 with assists from Bourque and Patrick McNeill to take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
In their previous two outings this weekend, the Bears scored a first period power play goal, but then went without another in the subsequent two periods in each affair; however, only 2:01 into the middle frame, they erased the possibility of that same scenario occurring in a third straight game when Micflikier added a power play strike at 2:01 and gave his club a 3-0 lead to enter the third period.
Entering the final frame with the three-goal cushion, it’s likely that the Bears’ coaching staff reminded their charges that they held that same lead nine days earlier in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton only to see the baby Pens emerge with a 4-3 victory. However, rookie forward Garrett Mitchell, who had also scored the first goal of the game in the February 3rd meeting, netted his fifth goal of season and third in his last games 2:30 into the third to make it a 4-0 Hershey lead. Mitchell’s marker was aided by his fourth line mates, Andrew Carroll and D.J. King.
In the last six games, which have incidentally coincided with Keith Aucoin’s recall to the Capitals, the fourth line unit, with Carroll and Mitchell as the constants and with King and Joel Rechlicz taking turn as the third wheel, has seen their ice time increase during that period, and the unit has responded by playing their best hockey of the season.
The baby Pens avoided being shut out by the Bears for the second time this season with a little less than nine minutes remaining in the game, but Potulny put his team ahead again by four goals shortly thereafter.
Today’s meeting was the 11th of the 12 game season series with the Baby Pens with one more matchup scheduled between the clubs on April 6th in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
The Bears, who entered the game tied for second in the AHL with a couple of other clubs for most penalties killed this season (244), allowed only one power play in the game.
The Bears have scored the first goal of the game in 32 games this season, the most in the league.
Holtby’s last regulation win at Giant Center was on December 11th versus Norfolk when he stopped 22-of-25 shots in a 6-3 triumph.
Tonight’s game marked the 50th of the season for the Bears, who find themselves with 64 points in the standings. Last season, the Bears reached the 50-game plateau with 68 points and found themselves with 70 points at the same juncture in the 2009-10 season.