His presence on the ice in Saturday night’s game against the Binghmaton Senators was the very influence of life that the BEARS needed. The team picked up a big spark of energy that led to back-to-back goals, en route to a 4-3 victory in front of 10,368 at GIANT Center.
No matter who Binghamton has dressed in their previous 44 games this season, and no matter the game situation, the Sens have been a dangerous team and one that would either hold a lead once they got it, or come back from one that was held by their opponent. Two-goal deficit, one-goal deficit, one-goal lead – Binghamton always had the answer. Again last night – despite missing top guns such as Jakob Silfverberg, Mika Zibanejad, Stephane Da Costa, Patrick Wiercioch and Andre Benoit due to NHL recall – the team gave the BEARS all they could handle to maintain a lead.
The BEARS took leads of 1-0 and 2-1 on first-period goals by Boyd Kane (PP) and Cameron Schilling. The 2-1 lead is what I, along with many others, feel should have been 3-0. After going 1/1 on the power play, the BEARS earned their second chance of the period. An ill-fated maneuver with the puck by defenseman Garrett Stafford caused a turnover, which was forced by Corey Cowick. Rookie Jean-Gabriel Pageau went off to the races to score the Sens’ league-leading 12th shorthanded goal of the campaign when he beat Philipp Grubauer with a backhander. I don’t like to single anybody out at all when something goes awry. But fans, how many times have we seen that high-risk pass attempt across the offensive blue line get picked off and turned into a scoring chance against, if not a goal – by any player? It gets old. And it got old for coach Mark French, who replaced Stafford with Patrick McNeill on the very next power play, and for all of the rest of the eight total.
Holding their 2-1 lead early in the second, the BEARS had to kill off a Binghamton carry-over power play, and did a great job in doing so. But the Sens had the momentum going, and turned it into a tying goal when Derek Grant handcuffed Grubauer with another backhander after taking a cross-ice pass from David Dziurzynski.
The game-changing moment came shortly afterward. Paquette is on the ice, finishes a big hit on defenseman Mark Borowiecki, and then was challenged to a scrap by Binghamton tough guy Darren Kramer. The lengthy fight that ensued put a charge into GIANT Center that has not been heard or felt since Joel Rechlicz did his dances here the past two seasons. Watch it among the highlights here. It’ll start your day nicely.
It took all of 16 seconds for the BEARS to respond. Jeff Taffe deflected a Julien Brouillette point shot off of the goal post, but the carom went off of Sens netminder Robin Lehner and into the net. Then, almost exactly 10 minutes later, defenseman Eric Gryba was victimized for a BEARS goal for the second time this season (remember this one?). This time, Jon DiSalvatore spotted Gryba (who, to his credit, led the AHL with a plus-25 rating entering yesterday’s game) trying to block a pass while at the top of the crease. DiSalvatore fired the puck right at him, and the pass deflected into the net – never touching Lehner. It would be a big insurance marker as Brett Lebda struck with 1:48 left in the period to cut the BEARS lead to 4-3.
HERSHEY outshot Binghamton 11-4 in the final period, due in large part to the three power play chances awarded the hosts. French, in his post-game presser, alluded to the fact that his team forced Binghamton to use their sticks to try to slow the team down. I agree – and that might be the first time this season that the BEARS did that for most of the game.
Grubauer earned his fourth win of the season, Lehner suffered just his eighth setback, and the BEARS scored four goals for the first time since a 5-0 rout of the Connecticut Whale on January 13. The power play has scored in three consecutive games, with a total of three power play goals against the 2nd- and 3rd-ranked penalty killing units in the AHL (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Binghamton respectively). The penalty kill has been out more frequently than coach French would like, but is now 12 for its last 12 in the past two games to climb to 7th in the AHL.
Oh… and the BEARS have now gone 20 consecutive games without allowing more than three goals.
Another win on Sunday against Norfolk would bring that home record one game shy of the .500 mark. The Admirals arrived at 5:50 am after playing Wilkes-Barre/Scranton twice in Hampton Roads. You figure out who SHOULD have the advantage – but it is a game that cannot be taken lightly.