Game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals between the Hershey Bears and the Coachella Valley Firebirds was at times sloppy, gritty and of course nail-biting. That’s typical this late into the postseason, especially with a championship on the line.
Fortunately, the clutch heroics of Garrett Pilon ended the nerves with 9:59 left in overtime with a top-shelf snipe from the high slot to give the Bears a 1-0 win and a 3-2 series lead with the Calder Cup on the line.
— Capitals Prospects (@jon_m_sorensen) June 18, 2023
Here are five things that stood out in the Bears third win of a three-game homestand.
Penalty kill Perfection
The Bears’ special teams have been terrific in this series, with the penalty kill taking center stage. The PK is now 7-for-7 in the last two games after going 4-for-4 in Game 4 and 3-for-3 in Game 5. The Firebirds have struggled to get their power play set up because of how aggressive the Bears penalty killing unit has been in the series.
While the power play was 0-for-5 on the night, the Bears had numerous high-danger chances that easily could have turned the tide of the game.
A big reason why Game 5 was so tight and low scoring was because of how well each team defended. Both teams had their sticks in passing lanes and shooting lanes, making it difficult to get quality shots on goal. Things started to open up in the latter half of the game, but neither team could convert.
Just as he was in Game 4, Hunter Shepard was locked in. He bailed out the home squad numerous times in Saturday’s matchup, especially in the second period when the Firebirds had the most of their opportunities. He finished the game stopping all 21 Coachella Valley shots.
No, sir. pic.twitter.com/nWbH44aEM4
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) June 17, 2023
Firebirds goaltender Joey Daccord was also solid with 30 saves.
Lack of Forecheck and Physicality
The Bears got the majority of their chances in Thursday’s win because of their aggressive play in the attacking zone. The ferocious forecheck was not on display as frequently in Game 5 as it was in the previous contest. It started to come alive at the start of the second period, but it was not consistent.
Furthermore, the Bears were not playing with as much of a physical edge that made them successful in Game 4.
Careless Puck Management
Hershey had a tough time managing the puck in its own zone. Shepard had to be sharp early, compared to Game 4, where he only faced one shot through the first 10 minutes. The Bears had a tough time on breakouts because they tried to force too many passes that were intercepted by the Firebirds’ defense.
Coachella Valley’s forecheck came out right from the start which led to some turnovers. Luckily when there was a breakdown, Shepard came up large to keep it a scoreless game.
Slamming the door shut. pic.twitter.com/41mOJW8XX5
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) June 18, 2023
Smart puck management was a big reason why the chocolate and white had lots of chances in the first period of Game 4, so they will need to clean that up headed into a potential clinching Game 6.
Failing to Finish
The bounces did not go the Bears’ way in the first period. It could have been 2-0 Hershey after 20, but Daccord stood tall. Connor McMichael, who does not have a goal in the series, had a wide open net just above the goal line, but shot it across the crease.
— Capitals Prospects (@jon_m_sorensen) June 17, 2023
Mike Vecchione also had a glorious chance in front of Daccord in the middle frame, but he couldn’t settle a bouncing puck down and whiffed on it. He also had a glorious chance in overtime that just was out of his reach.
Aliaksei Protas was snakebitten the most after fanning on at least three opportunities in front of the net.
Game 6 comes Monday, Jun. 19 at Acrisure Arena at 10 p.m, with the Bears just one win away from their 12th Calder Cup.
By Jacob Cheris