HERSHEY, Pa. – The Hershey Bears were back on home ice and looking to punch their ticket to the Calder Cup Finals on Wednesday night before a capacity crowd at Giant Center, but the Rochester Americans had something to say about that and spoiled the game by taking a 4-1 final score and extending their season at least one more game. The decision sends the series back to Rochester for a sixth game on Friday night. Malcolm Subban turned in a first star performance with 32 saves on 33 shots while Hunter Shepard took the loss with three goals against on 27 shots.
It was a start that was reminiscent of game one as Rochester survived an early onslaught by host Hershey, with Subban making a few standout saves early on before the Amerks were able to silence the crowd. Jiri Kulich got on the board with his first of the series with a low shot that eluded Shepard’s pad to make it 1-0 just under five minutes into the game. Kulich had scored goals in every playoff game prior to this series with Hershey and has played a key role in providing that offense Rochester has become known for.
Although the score was 1-0 for nearly the next 40 minutes of hockey, it didn’t seem like it was destined to stay that way for long as both teams tried to light the lamp. Much like their effort in game four, the Bears had a massive shot advantage of 16-8 in the second period but couldn’t break through for a goal, but this time, the Americans took advantage. Rochester kept the puck in the offensive zone on a lengthy battle on the boards and forced Hershey into some trouble, and Mason Jobst fed Lukas Rousek for a sharp angle shot that just leaked through Shepard to double the lead at 2-0.
Wednesday’s game was another instance of what’s been a bruising, physical series to this point, and Hershey’s heavy hitters made their presence known to eventually lead to a goal. Captain Dylan McIlrath stepped up and laid a devastating hit on Isak Rosen, and although Shepard had to bail the Bears out on an ensuing breakaway for Michael Mersch, Rochester took exception to the hit and ended up with a penalty. Hershey took advantage moments later as Aliaksei Protas deflected a point shot from Logan Day for his fifth of the postseason to cut the lead to just one. The duo are among Hershey’s hottest skaters at the moment, with both players collecting points for the third straight game.
One is as close as Hershey would get in this one as Mersch got his revenge later on in the period, beating Shepard high over the shoulder from a bit of a sharp angle that put the game on ice in many ways. Rousek added his second goal of the game on the empty net to force a sixth game back in Rochester on Friday night. Bears head coach Todd Nelson saw plenty of good from his team’s performance but felt there was plenty on the table in this game.
“When you look at our goals against, they were all preventable,” Nelson said. “That’s on us. We talked about it all year, it’s fine when maybe a team outclasses you and beats you, but when you beat yourself it’s hard to win. The positive thing is that we still have home ice advantage and we played well in their building. We have to do it the hard way, but it’s hard to beat a team four times in a row.”
“We had our chances to win the game, we had an open shot and we hit the goalie in the chest. He played very well, but we also made him look really good. Bottom line is that their scorers are scoring and ours aren’t.”
Nelson didn’t name any names but mentioned that there are players up and down his team’s lineup that need to get going in order to take care of business in game six. Hershey won both matches in Rochester preceding Wednesday night’s game, but it’ll be another test for the team to take to try and do it again to stay perfect on the road. The Americans have the momentum after silencing Hershey’s home crowd, as they did in the first game of the series, but it’s worth noting that the Bears have not yet lost back-to-back games in these playoffs and responded strongly after their loss in game one.
It is the first time the Bears have lost two games in the same series, though, which sets the stage for what’s sure to be an interesting game on Friday night. Nelson mentioned that his team will address what he called the preventable nature of the goals against, several of which Shepard would no doubt like to have back. It’ll be up to the team and their netminder to have a bounce back game on the road to limit those goals and score more of their own, which has been an issue for the Bears at times over the course of the season. Friday’s game will be a 7:05 PM EST puck drop from Blue Cross Arena.
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