HERSHEY, PA — The Springfield Thunderbirds (14-9-2-0) could not solve the top-ranked defense in the AHL, as the Hershey Bears (22-6-0-0) skated off with a narrow 1-0 triumph on Sunday inside Giant Center.
The battle of the Eastern Conference’s two best defensive teams lived up to that billing in the opening 20 minutes, as neither Springfield’s Malcolm Subban nor Hershey’s Hunter Shepard showed nerves in their goal crease. Subban had a trio of high-danger denials off odd-man rushes, including a right-pad kick out on a Jimmy Huntington breakaway. Shepard had his own sterling saves, including a point-blank snapper from Keean Washkurak.
The biggest fireworks of the period came in the form of mitts dropping between former T-Bird Dylan McIlrath and Sam Bitten less than four minutes into the action. The early scrap between two of the toughest customers in the AHL added a big boost to both benches but ultimately did not lead to either team cracking into the scoresheet in the first 20 minutes.
As difficult as it was for the teams to establish in the first, it became even more difficult in a second period that saw only seven combined shots between the two teams, with Subban stopping four Hershey attempts and Shepard blocking three Springfield offerings, forcing the scoreless draw into a final period.
The game gave every indication that the first goal would be pivotal, and at 5:31 of the third, Pierrick Dube finally got on the board for the Bears, blasting a slapper that glanced off Subban’s left shoulder and squeaked across the line just moments before a T-Birds defender could get to the goal line to save it.
The winger’s 14th of the season proved to be the only tally, as Springfield could not dent Shepard the rest of the way. Former Bear Jakub Vrana had perhaps the best chance to tie the game on a one-timer from the right circle, but Shepard slid from right to left to deny the chance, and Springfield succumbed to their first shutout defeat of the season.
The two teams will have a grudge match on Friday night inside the MassMutual Center as the T-Birds begin a seven-game homestand. Puck drop on Friday is set for 7:05 p.m. for another Deuces Wild Friday.