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Mueller gives Wolf Pack a 3-2 series lead

Chris Mueller scored a shorthanded goal 11:39 into overtime as the Hartford Wolf Pack moved to within one victory of a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals with a 5-4 win over the Hershey Bears at Giant Center on Wednesday night.

The Wolf Pack lead the series, three games to two, with Game 6 set for Friday at the XL Center in Hartford.

After Hartford was caught with too many men on the ice in overtime, Chad Nehring outworked five Hershey skaters with a tenacious forecheck in deep before centering the puck to Mueller, who sniped a shot into the top corner glove side past Philipp Grubauer for his second goal of the night.

Hartford scored early but spent most of the rest of the game coming from behind. The Wolf Pack converted on a 5-on-3 power play chance just 2:39 into the contest when Danny Kristo walked in from the point to the top of the slot and ripped a shot past Grubauer for his second goal of the playoffs.

The rest of the opening frame belonged to the Bears. Connor Carrick let a long snap shot go from the center point and beat Yann Danis for a power-play goal at 7:21, and then Chandler Stephenson skated down the left side, cut in front and slipped a shot past Danis at 8:44 to give the Bears the lead at 2-1.

At 13:16, Garrett Mitchell raced in and backhanded a shot past Danis to make it 3-1, Hershey’s third shorthanded goal of the series.

Hartford scored the only goal of the second period, cutting the deficit to 3-2 as Chris Bourque‘s shot was stopped by Grubauer but defenseman Conor Allen, while falling to the ice, swept in the rebound from the bottom of the left circle.

A wild end to regulation saw Hartford tie things up twice in the final eight minutes. The Wolf Pack made it 3-3 with 7:51 to go as Joey Crabb kept the puck in the offensive zone at the blue line and sent it down low to Bourque, who collected it and put a shot past Grubauer for his third goal of the series against his former club and his fourth goal of the postseason.

The tie was short-lived, however, as Hershey regained the lead only 78 seconds later when Liam O’Brien deflected a Mike Moore shot past the glove of Danis to put the Bears up, 4-3, with 6:33 remaining.

But Hartford pulled even again with 3:24 to play when Mueller poked home the rebound of Michael Kostka‘s shot, his second goal of the series and fourth of the playoffs.

Mueller’s game-winner was the second playoff OT goal of his AHL career.

Danis (6-4) made 34 saves to earn the victory in net for the Wolf Pack, seven coming in the overtime period.

Grubauer (2-3) stopped 37 of 42 shots in defeat.

Eastern Conference Semifinals – Series “J” (best-of-7)
2-Hershey Bears vs. 3-Hartford Wolf Pack
Game 1 – Wed., May 6 – Hartford 2, HERSHEY 1 (OT)
Game 2 – Fri., May 8 – HERSHEY 6, Hartford 4
Game 3 – Sun., May 10 – Hershey 2, HARTFORD 1
Game 4 – Mon., May 11 – HARTFORD 3, Hershey 1
Game 5 – Wed., May 13 – Hartford 5, HERSHEY 4 (OT)
Game 6 – Fri., May 15 – Hershey at Hartford, 7:00
*Game 7 – Sun., May 17 – Hartford at Hershey, 5:00
   *if necessary… All times Eastern