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2023 Calder Cup Playoffs

Bears Roar Back to Bounce Wolf Pack

Bears Roar Back to Bounce Wolf Pack

HARTFORD, Ct. – It didn’t look pretty at times for the Hershey Bears in Game Three of the Atlantic Division Finals against the Hartford WolfPack. Down 1-0 and being outshot by a hefty margin after the first period, the Bears got a great performance by Hunter Shepard (33 saves on 34 shots) and worked their way back with three unanswered goals in a 3-1 win. The Bears swept their series with the Wolf Pack and advance to the Eastern Conference Final to take on the Rochester Americans. Louis Domingue made 13 saves on 16 shots in defeat as Hartford’s improbable run ended with the loss.

Back on home ice at XL Center, the WolfPack used the home crowd to jump out to a 13-4 shot lead in the first period and cashed in for the game’s first goal with Turner Elson burying a pass in close from Ryan Carpenter. Hartford more than doubled up Hershey in shots for the game, but Shepard was a key difference-maker in the game with double-digit shots on goal in each of the three periods.

The Bears would bide their time to get back into this game, killing off a few penalties and warming to the task offensively. Their opportunity came when a penalty to Beck Malenstyn was reversed after the referees determined his hit was legal. Not long after that, the Bears drew a call and took advantage of the delayed penalty moments later as Mike Vecchione found defenseman Vincent Iorio ahead of the field. His shot beat Domingue for his first Calder Cup Playoff goal and his first tally overall since January.

The goal sent the game to the final frame even at one, and the Bears would take the lead with another defenseman striking. Vecchione made a great pass out of the corner to find Lucas Johansen sneaking into the left circle. The defender fired a picture-perfect wrist shot past the glove hand of Domingue to find twine for his first Calder Cup Playoff goal and first tally since October that ultimately stood up as the game-winner.

Hershey added some insurance later in the third as Garrett Pilon swept home a rebound of a Connor McMichael shot just three minutes later to make it 3-1 in favor of the visitors. The goal is Pilon’s second of the postseason and added some much-needed insurance for the Bears as they did in Game Two. Hershey tallied two goals shortly after Sam Anas missed out on a penalty shot, but despite the quality offensive chances, the Bears tallied only six shots on goal in the final frame.

Hartford pulled Domingue with about five minutes to play and pressed to get back in the game, but as the third period wore on it seemed as though the Bears suffocated the WolfPack’s offense. The Bears held off the WolfPack by limiting their quality chances and completed the sweep in three games. Shepard earned first star honors in the game as the Bears advanced to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2016.

It’s a bittersweet ending to the season for the WolfPack, who went on a tear in the second half of the season to move from the basement of the Atlantic Division to fifth place in the regular season. It’s the first time Hartford has made it to the Calder Cup Playoffs since 2015, where they went to the conference final before falling the eventual champions in the Manchester Monarchs. This spring, the WolfPack upset higher seeded Springfield and the regular season champions of the Atlantic in the Providence Bruins. Hartford met their match in this Hershey team and played three close games against them much like the regular season series but ended up on the wrong side of the score sheet in all three games.

The Bears will take on the Rochester Americans in a best-of-seven series to see who represents the Eastern Conference in the Calder Cup Finals. The Amerks completed a three-game sweep of the Toronto Marlies in the North Division Final on Wednesday as well, and the series will begin on May 23 at Giant Center in a 2-2-1-1-1 format thanks to the relative proximity between the two teams. It’s the first time the American Hockey League’s oldest franchises have met in postseason action since the 2000 Calder Cup Playoffs, where Rochester swept the series in four games. If the series goes beyond five games, the series will extend into the month of June for the first time for Hershey since their run in 2016. We will be breaking down the series in full on Field Pass Hockey, so stay tuned for more as the East’s best prepare to clash next week!

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