AHL Morning Skate: June 19, 2023

Photo: Tori Hartman/Hershey Bears

P2-Coachella Valley Firebirds vs. A2-Hershey Bears
Game 6 – Tonight, 10:00 ET,
TV: NHL Network, NBC Sports Washington, Root Sports Northwest
Satellite Radio: SiriusXM 91 NHL Network Radio
(Hershey leads series, 3-2)

Game 1 – Thu., June 8 – COACHELLA VALLEY 5, Hershey 0 | Recap
Game 2 – Sat., June 10 – COACHELLA VALLEY 4, Hershey 0 | Recap
Game 3 – Tue., June 13 – HERSHEY 5, Coachella Valley 4 (OT) | Recap
Game 4 – Thu., June 15 – HERSHEY 3, Coachella Valley 2 | Recap
Game 5 – Sat., June 17 – HERSHEY 1, Coachella Valley 0 (OT) | Recap
Game 6 – Mon., June 19 – Hershey at Coachella Valley, 10:00
*Game 7 – Wed., June 21 – Hershey at Coachella Valley, 10:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern

The Hershey Bears are one win away from their 12th championship as the Calder Cup Finals return to the desert for Game 6 tonight... The home team has won all five games of the series, with the Bears claiming three one-goal decisions at Giant Center after being shut out by Coachella Valley in the first two contests at Acrisure Arena... Garrett Pilon (4-6-10) scored the only goal of Game 5 on Saturday, giving Hershey a 1-0 overtime victory and the 3-2 series lead... Hunter Shepard (13-5, 2.14, .916) made 21 saves to earn his third shutout of the postseason... Shepard joined Johnny Bower (1953), Denis DeJordy (1962), Dustin Tokarski (2012) and Anton Forsberg (2016) as the only goaltenders with a 1-0 OT shutout in the Calder Cup Finals... Mason Morelli (5-7-12) and Logan Day (3-10-13) set up the winning goal Saturday; both have recorded assists in three straight games... Joey Daccord (14-10, 2.22, .927), who stopped 31 shots for the Firebirds in Game 5, owns a 1.68 GAA and a .939 save percentage in the Finals, but has lost three consecutive decisions for the first time all season... Coachella Valley’s Kole Lind (7-21-28), Max McCormick (12-13-25), Ryker Evans (4-18-22), Alexander True (7-11-18), Jesper Froden (5-4-9), Andrew Poturalski (3-6-9) and Tye Kartye (6-2-8) totaled 18 points (6g, 12a) in Games 1 and 2 at home, but were held to a combined five points (1g, 4a) in the three games in Hershey... Saturday’s game was Coachella Valley’s third 1-0 loss this postseason... The Firebirds are 5-8 in one-goal games during the playoffs; the Bears are now 5-1... Coachella Valley is 4-0 when facing elimination this season, with all four wins coming on home ice by a combined score of 20-9... Hershey is 3-2 this postseason with a chance to clinch a series... The Firebirds have won six straight home games, averaging five goals per contest... Tonight is Coachella Valley’s 25th playoff game, tying the 2002 Chicago Wolves for the most ever in a single Calder Cup postseason... The three combined shutouts this series match the most ever in one Calder Cup Finals; Hershey’s Gord Henry blanked the Pittsburgh Hornets three times in the 1947 championship series... Four teams (Buffalo in 1946, Hershey in 1947, Providence in 1949 and Rochester in 1987) have won the Calder Cup after trailing three games to two... Total attendance in the series so far is 52,310 fans, with capacity crowds at all five games to date... In addition to streaming on AHLTV, tonight’s game will air live on NHL Network, NBC Sports Washington and Root Sports Northwest, and can be heard on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio.

The Firebirds are trying to look at the big picture going into Game 6 tonight, even after three consecutive losses — their longest skid this postseason — have put their title hopes in peril.

“They’re all one-goal games, a couple of overtime games,” defenseman Brogan Rafferty said of the three games in Hershey that put the Firebirds down three games to two. “It’s a tough pill to swallow. Momentum shifts in the playoffs are crazy. So we’ve got to learn from the last three games and go back home, backs-against-the-wall mentality, and full pedal to the gas here.”

Indeed, momentum can shift quickly in the Calder Cup Playoffs. When the Firebirds were last on Acrisure Arena ice, they were celebrating their second consecutive shutout win to open the series. But multiple adjustments by the Bears have dramatically changed the look of the series. Hershey is clogging up the neutral zone and significantly slowing down Coachella Valley’s speed-based game. Bears defenders have been dogged in blocking shots and clearing net-front chances to take away other avenues of attack for the Firebirds.

Now it’s Coachella Valley’s turn to adjust.

“We are a fast team. We play fast, and we’re looking to reiterate that here going home,” Rafferty said. “They’re playing desperate hockey, so we have to make adjustments now going home and really ramp up our desperation level. This is the time to do that.”

The Firebirds will also have their home fans back on hand.

Said goaltender Joey Daccord, “It’s been so much fun having their support. We feel confident that we’re going to have the whole arena behind us. They’re going to give us everything, and we’re going to give everything for them.”

If the Bears are going to win the Calder Cup, they’re going to have to figure out Acrisure Arena.

When the Bears left the desert eight days ago, they were a team wondering what had just happened. Normally a very defensively structured club, and with a 6-0 road playoff record coming into the Finals, Hershey allowed nine goals in two games and saw the Firebirds skate circles around them.

On Sunday, they returned to California in much different spirits.

Now comes the latest challenge: When Acrisure Arena fans get going, the Firebirds can jump on a visiting opponent and turn around a game quickly. Coachella Valley rattled off three goals early in the third period to put Game 1 away. They scored four times in the second period of Game 2. The Firebirds are outscoring their guests 55-28 in 14 home games this postseason.

“We know what we’re up against going there,” Bears head coach Todd Nelson said. “It’s going to be a battle. Their building’s going to be rocking. They’re going to feed off their fans, and the toughest games that we’re going to be playing are coming up in the next couple of days.”

Patrick Williams

Watch the Calder Cup Playoffs on AHLTV
Don’t miss a second on the road to the 2023 Calder Cup championship. AHLTV features live streaming of every AHL game in high definition on desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile devices, as well as OTT platforms such as Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android TV. A subscription is just $29.99 for the entire postseason, or just $8.99 for a day pass. Visit AHLTV.com for details.