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2023 Calder Cup Playoffs

Shepard, Bears Deal Blow in Game Two

Shepard, Bears Deal Blow in Game Two

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Hershey Bears are coming home with a 2-0 series lead over the Charlotte Checkers after an offensive outburst in the third period lifted them to a 5-1 decision at Bojangles Coliseum. Bears goaltender Hunter Shepard left his mark on the game with 19 saves on 20 shots in the win while Hershey’s offense rose to the occasion in the third period with three goals to put the game out of reach. J.F. Berube had 11 saves in the loss as the series shifts to Giant Center for the necessary third game to decide who advances to the Atlantic Division Final.

One of the interesting oddities of this series is that a lot of Hershey’s players are tallying their first Calder Cup Playoffs despite being highly regarded players with plenty of regular season games under their belt. It’s an interesting trend that shows just how much time has been lost because of the pandemic and Hershey’s early exit a year ago, and it kept on rolling on Saturday.

Joe Snively tallied his first playoff goal at the end of a power play, curling, dragging, and firing a shot past Berube to open the scoring. Snively has 151 games of AHL experience but played just his fifth career Calder Cup Playoff game in this one.

The Bears got one more before the period’s end courtesy of the fourth line. Riley Sutter surged past a defender and fed Mason Morelli on a two-on-one rush for his first Calder Cup Playoff goal. Morelli, who was the only player to suit up in all 72 of Hershey’s games in the regular season, has even more games of AHL experience with 195 games under his belt, but has just five playoff games to his name at this level like Snively.

The Bears didn’t have a lot of shots in this game but had two goals on ten shots after 40 minutes of action.

It was a slower, grinding style of play for the first half of the third period, but the rollercoaster ride hit its first sudden drop when Ryan McAllister scored his first Calder Cup Playoff goal by stashing a loose puck by Shepard in the slot. McAllister has been remarkably effective in a small sample size at the AHL level, tallying five points in four regular season games in addition to two points in three postseason games. He didn’t play on Friday and only played in two of the three games against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the play-in round, but it’s safe to say he’s earning the opportunity to go further at this level.

With half the period to play and the deficit cut to one with momentum and the home crowd behind them, it seemed to be an opportunity for the Checkers to battle back and even the score. However, Hershey’s offense went to work after a media timeout and responded as Garrett Pilon fed Connor McMichael for his second goal of the weekend just 35 seconds after Charlotte’s goal to make it 3-1.

Hershey wasn’t done there. The next line up struck just 23 seconds later as Aliaksei Protas won a puck battle behind the net and fed it to Sam Anas with time and space in front of Berube, which is a recipe for success. It’s the first postseason goal in a Bears uniform for Anas, a day removed from tallying two assists, as he is one of the most experienced players in the playoffs. Protas, meanwhile, tallied a pair of assists in this game and has three points in his first two postseason games.

Pilon sealed the deal with an empty net goal to make it 5-1, his second career playoff goal, as the Bears pulled off two straight wins at Bojangles Coliseum.

The Bears netted five goals for the first time against the Checkers, and one would have to go back to their days as the Albany River Rats to find such goal scoring on the road back in 2010. Snively and Pilon each finished with a goal and two assists as the top two stars of the game with Shepard getting the third. The series will shift to Giant Center on Wednesday, and on Thursday and Sunday if needed, where the Bears were the best team in the East in terms of points with 50 and wins with 23. Puck drop for Game Three is set for 7:00 PM EST from the Sweetest Place on Earth.

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