WILKES-BARRE, TWP. – For the second game in a row, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins watched as an in-state rival clinched a playoff birth at Mohegan Sun Arena.
And while the past two games have meant nothing to the Penguins – from a standings point of view – and everything to their opponents, it doesn’t mean that Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Hershey Bears in front of 7,108 didn’t leave head coach Clark Donatelli with a sour taste in his mouth.
“This was another game where we didn’t come out ready to play,” said Donatelli, whose team also lost to Lehigh Valley on Wednesday. “It’s disheartening to see. That’s a good team over there and I understand that we’re in the playoffs and I understand that we’ve got home ice, but you’ve got to come out and compete.”
The Bears win, combined with a Bridgeport loss to Springfield on Friday means that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Providence, Lehigh Valley and Hershey will be the Atlantic Division’s four playoffs teams.
In what order the Bruins, Phantoms and Bears finish will be decided later tonight.
The Sound Tigers, who actually have the fifth best record in the Eastern Conference, are this year’s tough-luck losers.
The Penguins came out flat and managed a season-low one shot on goal in the first period. Then, after pulling even 1-1 in the third on a Tim Erixon power-play goal, they allowed the Bears to retake the lead just 27 seconds later.
“We didn’t shoot the puck and were being way too fancy,” said Donatelli, whose team fell to 8-4-0-0 against the Bears this season. “We got away from our game plan, lost too many one-on-one battles, and we ended up losing the game.”
Turning Point: After evening the game up at 1-1 in the third on a Tim Erixon power-play goal, the Penguins allowed Christian Djoos an open shot from the right circle just 27 seconds later. The Bears defenseman didn’t miss and the Penguins trailed the rest of the way.
What it means: The Penguins (50-20-3-2, 105 pts.) have now lost two games in a row. … Wilkes-Barre/Scranton leads the Atlantic Division by 6 points over the Phantoms (99 pts.), who clinched a playoff spot with their win over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Wednesday. …. Around the division: Providence (96 pts.) lost to Lehigh Valley in overtime; Bridgeport (92 pts.) fell to Springfield. Hershey now has 95 pts.
Worth mentioning: The win clinched a playoff spot for the Bears, who knocked the Penguins out of the 2016 Calder Cup chase in seven games last season. … Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith lost in regulation for the first time since Feb. 18. … The game was the fourth in a row where the Penguins failed to register more than two goals. … Both Troy Josephs and Zach Aston-Reese took slashes and had to head back to the locker room. Josephs returned to the game, Aston-Reese did not. … The Penguins are now 8-4-0-0 against the Bears this season and have lost their last two showdowns. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton had won six of its previous seven match-ups with Hershey. … Pheonix Copley got the start in net for the Bears for the 11th game in a row and stopped 22 shots to earn his 11th win since rejoining Hershey at the trade deadline. … Oskar Sundqvist, who had an assist on Erixon’s goal, now leads all Penguins with 11 points (4G-7A) against the Bears this season. … The Pens PK went 2/2, it’s power play went 1/1. … Hershey has now gone 2-4-0-0 at Mohegan Sun Arena this season.
By the numbers: 1 – regulation loss since the beginning of March for Penguins goaltender Casey DeSmith, who entered Friday 7-0-1 with a .959 save percentage and a 1.24 goals-against average.
Quote: “Some guys might have rested already for the last two games, so we might have to play them,” Donatelli said when asked about his plan for Saturday. “It leaves a bad taste because we didn’t play well. I get the mindset that the guys are in the playoffs, they worked hard, they deserve it, but it’s no excuse not to go out there and play well.”
Up next: The Penguins will host the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Saturday in their final game of the 2016-17 regular season at Mohegan Sun Arena. The contest will mean nothing to either team from a standings perspective. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.