For the second game in a row, the Amerks led Hershey 2-0 in the third period. For the second game in a row, the Bears got a goal to cut the lead in half with lots of time left to play.
The rest of Game 5 went a whole lot different than Game 4.
Michael Mersch scored the Amerks first power play goal of the series with a bit under seven minutes to play. Malcolm Subban stopped 32 of 33 shots and Lukas Rousek added an empty netter to give Rochester a 4-1 win that keeps their season breathing for at least 60 more minutes of hockey.
The victory forces a Game 6 back in Rochester on Friday night. Faceoff at Blue Cross Arena will be 7:05pm.
Amerks head coach Seth Appert thought his team was more assertive and aggressive on Wednesday than in the collapse Monday night. He said the biggest difference between Game 4 and Game 5 was communication.
“When you’re in big moments and you’re quiet, it feels very lonely. When you’re in big moments and you’re loud, you feel connected and there’s strength in numbers,” Appert said.
In a 3-1 series hole and facing elimination, Rochester struck first and struck early. Jiri Kulich snuck a wrister low on the stick side past Hunter Shepard–a shot the excellent Bears goalie probably stops 19 times out of 20–to put the Amerks up 1-0 less than five minutes in.
Those first five minutes could have been much different, but Subban made multiple point blank shots. He followed the Kulich goal by stopping all 16 Hershey shots in the second period to preserve the 1-0 scoreline.
Rousek doubled Rochester’s advantage 82 seconds into the third. Mason Jobst saw Rousek camped out alone on the far post. Rousek banked a tough angle shot past Shepard through the five-hole.
Hershey had an answer on the power play two minutes later. Alieksai Protas tipped in a flip from the point and the Bears seemed poised to repeat the third period comeback from Monday night.
Subban had to stop a shot from the slot a moment later, but from there, Rochester settled the game down. The puck went up and down the ice, but each team was able to stop the other defensively when necessary. Both teams had dangerous moments. The game had a 50-50 feel which suited Rochester just fine up a goal.
“When you go on a deep run in the playoffs, you gain experience in different games and you’ve already been in certain situations,” Jobst said. “Going into the third, we’ve learned our lesson before in this postseason. Just last game we had to learn the hard way. I’m pretty happy with how we responded especially after giving up that one (Hershey goal).”
Mersch’s power play effort was a wrister from the left boards that perfectly beat Shepard over the shoulder on the near side. It was the first man-up goal in the Eastern Conference final for Rochester in 11 power play chances.
Hershey still leads the series 3-2 and has two more chances to close it out. However, the Amerks are also now 4-0 in elimination games and will be brimming with confidence they can finish off two more wins.
“These are the best times of your life,” Appert said. “When your back is against the wall. People think you’re done. Most people don’t have belief left in you, but you do inside each other and you’re playing with a group of guys you love, there’s nothing better. There will be very few moments in your life… that are better than moments like this.
“It’ll be nice that this bus ride isn’t our final ride,” Appert added. “We still have more things ahead of us.”