HERSHEY, PA — The Hershey Bears won the first two games of their best-of-five, second-round playoff series against the Charlotte Checkers by a combined score of 10-3. Returning to Giant Center on Wednesday, the Bears looked to sweep their Atlantic Division rival in front of their home fans.
That did not happen.
Instead, the Bears sputtered early and watched as the Checkers fired 10 of the first 14 shots on goal in the first period. Hershey ultimately got on the board first in the second period, via a Sam Anas snipe on an odd-man break, but would go on to surrender two consecutive breakaway goals. They ultimately dropped Game Three, 2-1.
Time to get back in the saddle 😤
— Hershey Bears (@TheHersheyBears) May 4, 2023
Wednesday’s poor outing represented a missed opportunity to snuff out the Checkers early in the series; closing out the Checkers will likely get more difficult from here. Bears head coach Todd Nelson, normally reserved during his press conferences, was frustrated by the performance and let his team have it. The Bears didn’t seem to adhere to the system for much of the night. At times they struggled to breakout behind the net with the man advantage and surrendered short-handed chances right in front of goaltender Hunter Shepard. Despite getting four more power plays than Charlotte, they were unable to score on any of their five opportunities.
“That was a pretty ugly game for our hockey team,” Nelson said. “You know, we weren’t executing. We knew Charlotte was going to come out and make a big push and they did and that, but we weren’t executing very well at all, right from the drop of the puck. We got a bit better in the second period. It was a pretty low-event game. Like, the chances after the second were 9-8. So it was pretty low-event. Tight checking out there. They do a great job of, their back pressure and reloading and so our guys just have to understand: we’ve got to move our feet quicker and make quicker plays.”
Because Games Three and Four were back-to-back, Nelson said the team would not have a morning skate and instead go over game tape ahead of puck drop at 7pm on Thursday night.
“We’ll have our meetings where I’ll address it and go from there,” Nelson said. “The guys will see themselves on video, and when they’ll watch it, some guys might be pretty embarrassed. The bottom line is that our best players have to be our best players, and right now I don’t see that. And, like, they know that. It’s tighter checking out there but we have to break through and win our puck battles and go from there.”
After winning the first two games via blowouts, Nelson seemed worried that the Bears came out too cute and overconfident, unwilling to put in the work. sometimes ugly, to win a playoff game.
“They’re a good hockey team,” Nelson said. “Those scores, down in Charlotte, they look lopsided but it wasn’t indicative of the games being played.
“We had our power play and guys weren’t shooting the puck. Their goalie saw the shots going to the net; we didn’t have a really good net presence. So, those are things we have to straighten out and that’s a choice the guys have to make.”
Nelson’s message for his players for Game Four was simple but impassioned.
“I want them to play the right way,” Nelson said. “I want them to play as a team, not as individuals. It’s no time of year to–I know we’re at home, I don’t know if the guys were a bit jittery because they want to put on a show for the home crowd and all that stuff, but you know, we weren’t playing our best hockey, where we’re playing our system well, playing detailed, we’re outworking our opponents. And that wasn’t the case tonight.
“We have to get back to playing the right way. Being over top of them. Getting pucks in deep. Going to work, win puck battles. Special teams have to be key. We weren’t sharp all game. You saw many times we iced the puck. That’s an unforced error. Against a good face-off team like that, you can’t have that.”
The Bears will now have an opportunity to take Nelson’s lessons to heart Thursday night, where they hope to end the series.
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