BRIDGEPORT — Monday’s matinee against the Hershey Bears was a chance for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers to build on Saturday’s comeback win, to get back on a run after a so-so road trip.
The Bears instead scored late in the first to tie it, getting two more in the second and beating Bridgeport 4-1. They forced turnovers, forechecked hard, hemmed the Sound Tigers in for long stretches at a time at Webster Bank Arena.
Bridgeport is 2-6-0-1 in January, without a regulation win in the past 10 games, outshot in 11 in a row.
“It’s hard to say a certain specific thing,” alternate captain Seth Helgeson said. “It’s one of those things we’ve got to battle through some of this adversity, regroup, just get back to our identity as a team and work from there.”
That identity is based on hard work, but the Bears outworked them in key spot to create offense. Hits and play along the boards forced turnovers that led to goals.
“We’re in a little rut. Some guys are not preparing, maybe, the right way,” Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson said. “I can’t answer that … All I know we’re not working hard enough in a 60-minute hockey game.
“It is disappointing. I do think it’s just a midseason rut. I think guys see the all-star break around the corner, and maybe we’re not mentally sharp. It’s no excuse for the work ethic.”
Bridgeport’s lead over Lehigh Valley for second place in the Atlantic Division is three points.
“It’s been a tough stretch,” Helgeson said. “We had that good weekend coming off Christmas break (three wins). I don’t know what it is. It comes down to us, how we’re executing, performing.”
Attendance was 2,776 for a game postponed to a holiday afternoon from Sunday by a winter storm that kept the Bears in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
Long stretches of the first period Monday looked like a make-up matinee, passes that missed connection, plays that didn’t happen. Chris Bourque shot wide with most of an empty net early on.
He didn’t miss later, taking a pass from Sebastian Aho (back after losing six games to injury), faking a one-timer and putting a shot toward the Hershey net that Otto Koivula tipped in for a power-play goal.
But Liam O’Brien forced a turnover and set up Riley Barber to tie it with 13.2 seconds left in the first. A hard shift by the Bears in the Bridgeport end set up Juuso Ikonen for the go-ahead goal 4:28 into the second. Veteran defenseman Aaron Ness, the former Bridgeport captain, set up Mike Sgarbossa’s power-play goal midway through the period.
“I think the goal definitely took the wind out of our sails, but I thought Hershey worked extremely hard,” Thompson said. “They’re a fast team. They’re aggressive. They’re physical. We didn’t match that work ethic.”
Beck Malenstyn bowled over Bridgeport defenseman Yannick Rathgeb to force a turnover that led to Garrett Pilon’s third-period goal to finish it off.
Steve Bernier came back from a three-game suspension, but Bridgeport lost forward Stephen Gionta to an injury he suffered Saturday.
“We’ve got a lot of injuries,” Thompson said, “but it gives a chance for these young guys, guys getting called up from the coast to step up and play a bigger role on our team.”
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BEARS 4, SOUND TIGERS 1
Hershey1 2 1—4
Bridgeport1 0 0—1
First Period — 1, Bridgeport, Koivula 13 (C.Bourque, Aho), 16:23 (pp). 2, Hershey, Barber 17 (O’Brien), 19:46. Penalties — Eansor, Bpt (tripping), :15; Walker, Her, major (fighting), 4:24; Burroughs, Bpt, major (fighting), 4:24; Megna, Her (tripping), 12:47; Lewington, Her (interference), 15:10.
Second Period — 3, Hershey, Ikonen 3 (O’Brien, Pilon), 4:28. 4, Hershey, Sgarbossa 19 (Ness, Barber), 9:00 (pp). Penalties — Walker, Her (roughing), :36; Bernier, Bpt (interference), 8:22; Malenstyn, Her (roughing), 9:53; St. Denis, Bpt (roughing), 9:53; Lewington, Her (cross-checking), 16:55.
Third Period — 5, Hershey, Pilon 3 (Malenstyn), 2:53. Penalties — None.
Shots on goal — Hershey 8-12-9—29. Bridgeport 9-7-5—21.
Power play opportunities — Hershey 1 of 2, Bridgeport 1 of 4.
Goaltenders — Hershey, Samsonov 9-11-0 (21 shots-20 saves). Bridgeport, Smith 12-8-2 (29-25).
Attendance — 2,776. Referees — Blandina, Menniti. Linesmen — N.Briganti, E.Ernst.
Sound Tigers Report
1. GARRETT PILON, HERSHEY: All over the puck, created chances, scored the last goal.
2. RILEY BARBER, HERSHEY: Hard on the forecheck, scored the late-first goal that got the Bears rolling.
3. LIAM O’BRIEN, HERSHEY: Work on the boards set up that first Bears goal.
UNSUNG HERO: Jeremy Smith made a few big saves for Bridgeport that kept this a game for a while.
UP NEXT: Wednesday vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, 10:30 a.m.