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The Monsters are still clinging to the ropes, but they're back in Game 6 |

Patrick Features Writer

The numbers say the Cleveland Monsters probably shouldn't be playing anymore.

But the Hershey Bears are ahead Garrett Roe call it in the morning. He knew what the Bears were up to.

“It's like a heavyweight belt,” Roe said following Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, where Hershey won its second straight overtime game to take a 2-0 series lead. “Just taking swings and throwing punches.”

When Roe made that comparison, the defending Calder Cup champion Bears had just survived issues where the Monsters forced overtime with late tying goals in both Game 1 and Game 2.

Hershey used a three-goal burst in less than three minutes to defeat Cleveland 6-2 in Game 3, chasing the Monsters' All-Star goaltender. Jet Greaves from the net in the process.

But a series that seemed headed for a Hershey sweep now sees the pendulum swing back Cleveland's way. Greaves rebounded in Game 4 with a 33-save effort as the Monsters pulled out a 3-2 victory. And in Game 5 on Saturday night, Hershey struck first before the Monsters rattled off five unanswered goals for a 5-1 win.

Before this series, only 20 of the 141 teams in Calder Cup Playoff history – just 14.2 percent – had ever reached Game 6 after being down 3-0 in the series. Cleveland joined that select group.

With three games to two remaining, the Monsters must now go to the Giant Center and do something no visiting team has done in the entire postseason – win a game. The Bears are 6-0 on home ice in these contests, and have won nine consecutive home playoff games dating back to last year's conference finals.

Only three teams in AHL history have ever won a series after losing the first three games. A few things have changed for the Monsters since the series began, however, as they attempt to become the fourth team to do so.

Start with the captain Brendan Gaunce. An injury suffered during a recall to Columbus late in the regular season kept him out for seven weeks, but he returned to the Monsters' lineup in Game 2 at Hershey and has been an anchor in the middle, picking up four points in four games, including two of his own. -goal, one assist performance in Game 5.

Cleveland also added a top flight prospect to their blue line for Game 4 as Denton Mateychuk, the 12th overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft and the Western Hockey League's top defenseman this season, made his pro debut after finishing his junior season with Moose Jaw. The head coach Trent Vogelhuber put the 19-year-old Mateychuk in a strong pairing Marcus Björk, a successful move in the last two tournaments. Mateychuk is an elite skater, sees the ice well, and has added another offensive element to Cleveland's backfield that has thrown the Bears a mid-series curveball.

Once David Jiriceksixth pick in that same 2022 class, the Monsters now have two top young talents contributing to the defense that look to be an important part of the future in Columbus in the near future.

Jiricek continues to show how he can dominate at times. He's only 20 years old but with 131 regular season games at the NHL and AHL levels, he's been impressive this spring playoff, ranking second among AHL blueliners with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 12 games of the playoffs. Jiricek has produced 31 shots on goal – 21 in five games against Hershey so far.

“Knowing [Jiricek] “In the last two years, the bigger the game, the more fun, the better player,” Vogelhuber said following Game 2.

Then there are the Greaves. After an outstanding regular season and helping lead the Monsters to series wins against Belleville and Syracuse, the Bears greeted him with 13 goals on 90 shots (.856) in the first three games. He was relieved Malcolm Subban third period of Game 3 before returning to start Game 4, and since then Greaves has stopped 66 of Hershey's 69 shots (.957).

Vogelhuber also said his players need to avoid penalty trouble after the Bears went 6-for-18 on the power play through the first three games. Cleveland has been hit just six times in the past two games, allowing one power play goal.

Combine those factors and more, and the Monsters pushed a Hershey foe that had 53 wins and 111 points in the regular season into tonight's Game 6. The Adirondack Red Wings came back to win the 1989 playoff series against the Bears after losing the first three games; a win tonight would put the Monsters in a position to repeat that.

But Vogelhuber always insists on playing the game in front of his team.

For the Monsters, that game is tonight. features writer Patrick Williams has covered the American Hockey League for nearly two decades at outlets including, Sportsnet, TSN, Hockey News, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio and SLAM ! Sports, and most recently was the host of The Hockey News On The 'A' podcast. He was the recipient of the AHL's James H. Ellery Memorial Award for the league's top scorer in 2016.

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