AHL Morning Skate: June 24, 2024

Photo: Mike Zitek

A1-Hershey Bears vs. P1-Coachella Valley Firebirds
Game 6 – Tonight, 7:00 ET,
(Hershey leads series, 3-2)

Game 1 – Fri., June 14 – Coachella Valley 4, HERSHEY 3 | Recap/Highlights
Game 2 – Sun., June 16 – HERSHEY 5, Coachella Valley 2 | Recap/Highlights
Game 3 – Tue., June 18 – COACHELLA VALLEY 6, Hershey 2 | Recap/Highlights
Game 4 – Thu., June 20 – Hershey 3, COACHELLA VALLEY 2 | Recap/Highlights
Game 5 – Sat., June 22 – Hershey 3, COACHELLA VALLEY 2 | Recap/Highlights
Game 6 – Mon., June 24 – Coachella Valley at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 7 – Wed., June 26 – Coachella Valley at Hershey, 7:00
*if necessary... All times Eastern

The Calder Cup Finals return to Giant Center tonight with the Bears on the verge of their 13th championship holding a 3-2 series lead over the Firebirds... Hershey grabbed a 3-2 win in the pivotal Game 5 on Saturday night back in Palm Desert, scoring twice in the third period to hand Coachella Valley its second straight loss at Acrisure Arena after starting the postseason 7-0 at home... Jimmy Huntington (5-8-13), who also scored with 1.3 seconds left in the opening period of Game 5, netted the game-winner with 3:15 remaining in regulation... Hershey has scored seven times during the Finals within the final four minutes of a period... Alex Limoges (4-7-11) set up both of Huntington’s goals for his second two-assist game of the series... Hardy Häman Aktell (5-4-9) scored his fourth goal of the Finals to tie the game earlier in the third... Making his 39th consecutive playoff start, Hunter Shepard (13-6, 2.41, .914) stopped 24 shots for the Bears on Saturday... Kole Lind (5-6-11) and Ryan Winterton (5-5-10) supplied the Game 5 goals for the Firebirds, who have lost back-to-back games for the first time since dropping their last three decisions before the Christmas break six months ago... Chris Driedger (12-5, 2.53, .912) kicked out 17 shots for Coachella Valley in Game 5...

The Bears’ third-period comeback from 2-1 down on Saturday marked just the second lead change in the series... Eight skaters – six Bears and two Firebirds – are tied for the series scoring lead with five points apiece... Hershey is 3-for-19 on the power play during the Finals, while Coachella Valley is 1-for-16... Each team also has a shorthanded goal in the series... Coachella Valley owns a 149-109 advantage in shots on goal in the series, including 70-24 in the second period... Hershey has scored five goals on its 24 second-period shots, while the Firebirds have six goals on their 70 shots... The Bears have scored at least one goal in 13 of the 15 periods in the series; the Firebirds have scored in 11 of 15... Coachella Valley owned the best road record in the AHL during the regular season (26-5-3-2), and is 5-3 away from home in the playoffs; Hershey won a league-best 29 home games in the regular season and is 8-2 at Giant Center this postseason... The Bears are 12-13 in games all-time with a chance to win the Calder Cup... The Firebirds are facing elimination for the first time in 2024; they were 5-1 in potential elimination games a year ago... Four teams in AHL history have won the Calder Cup after trailing three games to two: the 1946 Buffalo Bisons (down 3-1), the 1947 Hershey Bears (down 3-1), the 1949 Providence Reds (down 3-1) and the 1987 Rochester Americans.

Even on the brink of winning a second consecutive Calder Cup, Hershey head coach Todd Nelson still wants more from his players.

“We played against a Coachella team that I thought checked really well,” Nelson said after his team’s Game 5 victory. “We were pretty sloppy in the first period. That’s a credit to them because they had good sticks and they were working to stay over top, and I expect the same out of them in Game 6.”

But for the Bears, who recorded just two shots over the first 14-plus minutes of the game, Jimmy Huntington’s marker with 1.3 seconds to go in the opening frame provided a needed boost.

“It wasn’t a very good first period,” Nelson said, “and to get that goal just before the intermission was a huge goal for us.”

They’ll get another boost tonight with a return to home ice after three games at Acrisure Arena.

“It’s going to be nice to go back to Giant Center and see our fans,” Nelson said.

Andrew Poturalski has been missed lately.

A two-time Calder Cup champion who has 73 points (26 goals, 47 assists) in 81 career playoff games in the AHL – including 20 points in 18 Finals games over four appearances in the championship series. Winner of the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player in the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs with Charlotte. Captain of Chicago’s 2022 title team.

Last year, he made an accelerated comeback from a midseason knee injury to rejoin the Firebirds during the playoffs. But this spring, Coachella Valley has been forced to go without Poturalski since he departed with another injury during Game 1 of the Finals 10 days ago. The two-time AHL scoring champion (2020-21, 2021-22) had 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 13 playoff games after a 51-point regular season.

“More than providing points, he’s a winner,” head coach Dan Bylsma told reporters after Game 5. “He’s done it over and over and over again.”

But Bylsma did not reveal whether Poturalski could be an option tonight or, if necessary, in Game 7 on Wednesday.

“He’s been in the Finals... he’s still in the Finals right now,” Bylsma said. “Whether he gets in his jersey or not, he will be with us. He will be a part of the team for Games 6 and 7.”

With Poturalski out, rookie forward Lleyton Roed went into the lineup for Game 2 and has remained there since. He picked up a goal in Game 3.

The Calder Cup will be in the building tonight with the Bears one win away from the championship.

Giant Center is hosting its 19th Calder Cup Finals game since opening in 2002; only twice previously has there been a chance for a trophy presentation.

In 2009, the Bears had a 3-1 series lead over the Manitoba Moose but lost Game 5 at home, sending the series back to Winnipeg. Hershey won Game 6 on the road to claim the Calder Cup.

In 2010, Hershey lost the first two games of the Finals to the Texas Stars at home before winning three in a row in Cedar Park. They won the championship in front of a franchise-record crowd in Game 6.

― with files from Patrick Williams

Game 7 of the 2024 Stanley Cup Final goes tonight as the Florida Panthers host the Edmonton Oilers... Either Florida’s Steven Lorentz (Charlotte, 2019) or Edmonton’s Calvin Pickard (Toronto, 2018) will become the 131st player ever to win both the Stanley Cup and the Calder Cup in their careers... Panthers GM Bill Zito is bidding to add a Stanley Cup to the Calder Cup he won as general manager of the Lake Erie Monsters in 2016.

Watch the Calder Cup Playoffs on AHLTV
Don’t miss a second on the road to the 2024 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 to watch every game for the entire postseason, or just $8.99 for a day pass. Visit AHLTV.com for details.