Game 4 adjustments help Bears pull back even

Photo; Eric Fowler

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

Going into Game 4 of the Calder Cup Finals last night, the Hershey Bears decided to look at their predicament in a different light.

They were down two games to one in the best-of-seven series with the Coachella Valley Firebirds following a decisive 6-2 defeat in Game 3 on Tuesday. Trying to hang on for dear life had not worked against a potent offense like Coachella Valley’s, especially with the Bears missing three of their top defensemen in Aaron Ness, Lucas Johansen and Vincent Iorio to injury.

Something had to change – and quickly – or it risked the Firebirds turning this entire series into a rout.

“I hate the term ‘weather the storm,’” head coach Todd Nelson told reporters at Thursday’s morning skate. “We have to fight fire with fire.”

The Bears brought the fire from the outset in Game 4. They gave up the first and last shots of the period, but in between they outshot the Firebirds 11-2 and took a 1-0 lead on Ethen Frank’s 10th goal of the playoffs. It was only the third time this series that the Bears had outshot Coachella Valley in a period. After allowing 42 shots in Game 3, Hershey sliced that total down to 24 last night.

And when Coachella Valley responded, erasing 1-0 and 2-1 deficits, the Bears answered back. Nelson had critiqued some of his top scorers after a 5-2 win in Game 2. They delivered in Game 4, with Frank (1g, 2a), Hendrix Lapierre (1g, 2a) and Joe Snively (1g, 1a) combining for eight points in a 3-2 win that squared the series. Game 5 is Saturday at Acrisure Arena (9 ET/6 PT, AHLTV, NHL Network).

The tone of the series may have changed yet again, the latest twist in an intense rivalry that has developed through back-to-back meetings in the Finals. Now it’s a best-of-three and home-ice advantage is back with the Bears, who will host Game 6 on Monday and, if necessary, Game 7 on Wednesday.

The defending champs have shown that just when their situation looks to be its most dire, they manage to rally. Going back to last spring, the Bears are 5-1 in games when they trail in a series, including four straight wins against the Firebirds in that situation since falling behind 2-0 in the 2023 Finals. They have also won a pair of Game 7’s, against Coachella Valley last year and Cleveland in this year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Hershey seems comfortable on the tightrope.

They got a big emotional lift minutes before Game 4 when Ness read the starting lineup in the dressing room. The veteran defenseman has missed the Bears’ last eight games, but he did skate in warm-ups last night.

“It was a big deal,” Frank said. “Just having him in the room and even on the ice with us was a great feeling. Everybody was pretty fired up.”

The Bears have handed the Firebirds their first home loss of the playoffs, and have forced their foes to regroup before Game 5.

“It’s nice knowing that we’re taking this series back to Hershey,” Nelson said. “It’s only fitting that the top two teams in the league, it looks like it’s going to be a long series.”