HAMILTON, Ont. -- The league-worst Hamilton Bulldogs are making a habit of waiting until the last possible moment to win games.
Stefan Chaput scored the shootout winner and Robert Mayer stopped 34 shots as the Bulldogs defeated the Hershey Bears 3-2 in the American Hockey League on Friday.
It was the third straight game the Bulldogs won late. Against Texas and Toronto, it was go-ahead goals in the final minutes of the third period that brought Hamilton two points.
"The guys found a way to win," said Hamilton head coach Sylvain Lefebvre. "I don't think we played very well in last half of the first period and the second period wasn't so good. But in the third period we came back and played stronger.
"I like the fact that we battled and I like the fact that we kept it close and found a way to get our legs. We needed a little spark somewhere and we got it."
Chaput's goal came on Hamilton's fifth shot of the shootout, as the centre fired a heavy wrist shot low and past the outstretched blocker of Hershey goaltender Philipp Grubauer.
Chaput also had a goal in regulation, while Louis Leblanc added a goal for the Bulldogs (18-24-6).
Ryan Stoa had two goals for the Bears (23-20-6) and Grubauer made 26 saves in the loss.
Hamilton has now won a season-high three straight games and four of its last five.
The game got off to a slow start, with neither team registering a shot on goal through the first seven minutes of play.
But the Bulldogs made the most of their first scoring chance of the night.
Chaput opened the scoring at 8:32 of the first period after Jason DeSantis' slapshot from the right wing resulted in a rebound. Zach Stortini attempted to stuff it past Grubauer from close range, but his effort spilled to Chaput on the left, who easily slotted the puck into an empty net.
Immediately after being involved in a scoring play, Stortini took what proved to be a costly penalty. The Bulldog winger was assessed an additional minor penalty for roughing at the end of a fight at 8:36, and the Bears scored on the ensuing power play.
Peter Leblanc skated in from the right wing and moved in to the faceoff dot before releasing a wrist shot that Mayer struggled to handle. His kick save left a rebound in the path of Stoa, who readily chipped the puck past the goaltender to tie the game at 10:20 of the first.
Stoa scored his second goal of the period on the Bears' second power play to put the visitors ahead at 19:23. Leblanc cycled the puck to the winger behind the Hamilton net and Stoa walked out in front with defenders backing away, firing the puck past Mayer as he slid away from his post.
Offensive pressure was rare for much of the scoreless second period, but the Bears forced a standout save from Mayer with seven minutes to play. A point shot deflected to the unguarded Ryan Potulny in the high slot, but his quick wrist shot was met by Mayer's blocking glove as the goaltender slid to his right.
Chaput said Mayer's high level of play and that of his team are closely linked.
"We've always known that (Mayer) is a great goalie, but now that we're winning games, he's probably feeling positive in his net and confident in the boys that they'll be clearing pucks in front of him," said Chaput.
"It's a whole positive attitude around the locker room right now."
Hamilton levelled the game at 6:30 of the third, after a delay-of-game penalty to Hershey's Kevin Marshall put the home side on the power play. Mike Blunden drove to the net as Grubauer hesitated with the puck on his stick, jarring it loose in the process. Leblanc hacked at the offering, eventually jamming the puck into the net.
Both of the Bulldogs' goals came courtesy of a drive to the net, and Chaput said that crashing the crease is a consistent strategy for his team.
"That's what we've been talking about all year," he said. "We're finally starting to get the reward right now along with the wins over this stretch.
"We've just got to keep at it, keep putting the pucks at the net and driving the net."
Hershey's Garrett Mitchell nearly put his team ahead in the final 30 seconds, finding the crossbar with a wrist shot from the right wing that fooled Mayer.