American Hockey League

Finals notebook: Bears ‘not perfect’ but back in series

📝 by Patrick Williams

HERSHEY, Pa. … Not perfect. But better. And enough for now.

What the Hershey Bears’ 5-4 overtime win in Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals last night lacked in polish, it made up for in execution. The Bears lost a two-goal third-period lead and withstood ferocious overtime pressure from the visiting Coachella Valley Firebirds, lasting long enough to see Riley Sutter strike in overtime.

“Going down three-nothing in the series, it’s pretty much over,” as Hershey head coach Todd Nelson put bluntly. “I think we tired them out from having to play in their O-zone the whole time. We were fortunate to get the game winner.”

Nelson termed Game 3 the Bears’ “best game of the series so far,” but he saw plenty of improvements still to be made before Game 4 arrives Thursday night at Giant Center.

“That team we’re playing against never stopped and never quit,” Nelson continued. “That’s a credit to them. They’re a good hockey team, but we have to make them earn their goals. I felt like at least three of the goals, it’s on us. We can’t let that happen against them.”

Still, the Bears had plenty to like. First off, they finally solved Firebirds goaltender Joey Daccord, who had shut them out in the first two games at Coachella Valley. Even better, it was forward Ethen Frank who opened the game’s scoring on a first-period power-play goal. Frank had led all AHL rookies with 30 regular-season goals, but had gone without a goal in the playoffs and had even been a healthy scratch at times this postseason.

Joe Snively also broke through, scoring for the first time since Game 2 of the Atlantic Division semifinals against Charlotte.

“Getting the puck finally in the back of the net…was huge for us,” said forward Garrett Pilon, who had a goal and an assist last night. “We got back to our game and got some confidence back there. Back-to-back shutouts is a tough thing to deal with, especially when we were getting chances. That does stick in the back of your mind a little bit.”

But then came three third-period goals from the Firebirds, two of them from Cameron Hughes in the final 4:36 of regulation.

“All of a sudden you find yourself in overtime,” Nelson said, “but I like the way our guys stuck with it.”

Firebirds head coach Dan Bylsma got exactly what he thought he would from Hershey.

“We expected Hershey to come out guns a-blazing, coming out hard, and they certainly did,” Bylsma said.

The home team has won all three games of the series so far. While the Firebirds did find themselves down two goals twice in Game 3, they also rallied in the third period and put together that strong overtime effort.

“It’s now a series,” Bylsma said after Game 3. “It’s on. We need to play 60 minutes like we played the 10 minutes in overtime tonight.

“We planned right from the start for 420 minutes of hockey. It’s a seven-game series. We’re in for a long one. We know we’re playing a real good Hershey team, and we expected it to be a battle. We want it to be a battle. The longer it goes, we think the better it is for us.”

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