Bears survive Game 1 on Vecchione OT winner

Photo: Tori Hartman

Mike Vecchione scored off an odd-man rush 7:58 into overtime to give the Hershey Bears a 5-4 win over the Cleveland Monsters in the opener of the Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday night.

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Saturday at Giant Center.

Vecchione finished a give-and-go with Alex Limoges to give the Bears the 1-0 series lead after they had surrendered a two-goal lead late in regulation.

Ethen Frank, scratched for Hershey’s series-clinching win over Hartford last round, returned to the lineup and scored his sixth goal of the postseason to put the Bears on the board first 4:24 into the contest.

Cleveland answered with two goals in a span of 1:21 early in the second period, as Hunter McKown and Alex Whelan scored to put the Monsters in front.

Hershey responded at 6:15 of the second when Vecchione’s shot deflected off Aaron Ness and went in, tying the game at 2-2. Chase Priskie and Hendrix Lapierre tacked on power-play goals, and the Bears took a 4-2 lead into the waning minutes of regulation.

But the Monsters forced overtime by scoring twice in the final 83 seconds of the third period. Trey Fix-Wolansky swept in a shot from down low with the Monsters skating on a 6-on-4 power-play advantage at 18:37, and David Jiricek circled the offensive zone before finding room to blast a shot home with 19.1 seconds to go.

Hershey, which was 4-0 in overtime during their 2023 championship run, was playing its first OT game of this postseason. The Monsters had been 7-2 all-time in playoff overtime games.

Hunter Shepard (7-1) made 21 saves for the Bears. Jet Greaves turned aside 30 shots for Cleveland.

(Hershey leads series, 1-0)
Game 1 – Thu., May 30 – HERSHEY 5, Cleveland 4 (OT)
Game 2 – Sat., June 1 – Cleveland at Hershey, 7:00
Game 3 – Tue., June 4 – Hershey at Cleveland, 7:00
Game 4 – Thu., June 6 – Hershey at Cleveland, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sat., June 8 – Hershey at Cleveland, 7:00
*Game 6 – Mon., June 10 – Cleveland at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 7 – Wed., June 12 – Cleveland at Hershey, 7:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern