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    Penguins On Verge Of Playoffs

    April 4, 2018 GMT

    WILKES-BARRE TWP. —With their victory Tuesday, the Penguins are on the cusp of a 16th straight postseason appearance. And their chief rival gave them a late test that sampled some of the adversity they’ll need to overcome once they get there. The Hershey Bears scored twice in the third period to turn an easy victory into a nailbiter, but a power-play goal by Daniel Sprong and an empty-netter by Jean-Sebastien Dea were the difference in a 5-3 Penguins win. Their magic number for the playoffs dropped to 1, meaning any point gained on Bridgeport over the next two weeks will lock up a berth. The Penguins also beat the Bears for the seventh straight contest and the ninth time in 11 games this season, but it wasn’t easy. Hershey rallied with even-strength and power-play goals from Anthony Peluso and Matthias Bau, respectively, to pull within one with four minutes remaining. With Andrey Pedan in the penalty box for the game’s final minute, the Penguins survived a minute of 6-on-4 play to hold on. “You can’t give (the Bears) any life; they’re too good a team,” Penguins head coach Clark Donatelli said. “I like the way we buckled back down, but I didn’t like the fact that we gave them those two quick ones there. “We learned from it and shut them down at the end.” Fueling the Bears’ surge were two minor penalties by the Penguins in the game’s late stages. In the first 55 minutes, however, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (41-21-6-2) took only one penalty as it pulled away to a sizable lead. Fans barely had time to settle into their seats before Teddy Blueger made them stand again for his 19th goal of the season only 53 seconds in. Garrett Wilson later beat Pheonix Copley five-hole to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead after the first. Rookie Sam Lafferty gave them some breathing room in the middle period with his first career goal, and goaltender Tristan Jarry ate up a number of Hershey chances. In one sequence, he swatted a loose puck out of the crease before denying Lucas Johansen and Dustin Gazley in the slot. He made 30 saves in total and picked up his eighth win this season. “It looked like he was seeing (the puck), and he looked really confident in the net,” Donatelli said. “He made some really big saves down the stretch, too.” The Penguins can now punch their playoff ticket against Bridgeport on Friday, but Donatelli said the team is more concerned with building momentum over the final six games. What they learned in the final 10 minutes of Tuesday’s game can help them do that. “I think we kind of hit the gas pedal at one point, and then we kind of laid down for a bit,” Dea said. “I think it’s something we’ve got to be aware of going forward. Just gotta be ready in those situations and keep pushing. It was on us. We’ve got to play harder and better.” Contact the writer: tpiccotti@citizensvoice.com; 570-821-2089; @CVPiccotti on Twitter