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Bears hope to recharge in Game 2 |

Patrick Features Writer

How would the Hershey Bears navigate the emotional transition?

After a seven-game, heated rivalry with the Cleveland Monsters in the Eastern Conference finals, the defending Calder Cup champion Bears had less than 48 hours to fully focus on the Calder Cup Finals and their arch-enemy, the Coachella Valley Firebirds.

The Firebirds, meanwhile, have been in town since last Sunday after closing out the Western Conference Finals in Milwaukee and have spent the week preparing to play either Hershey or Cleveland. And the Firebirds club has made no secret of its desire to avenge last year’s Game 7 overtime loss in the finals.

Coachella Valley took the first of four steps needed to reach that goal, handing the Bears a 4-3 loss in Game 1 at the Giant Center on Friday. Game 2 is tonight (5 ET, AHLTV, NHL Network).

“I’m not making excuses,” said the Bears coach Todd Nelson said after Game 1, “but it was a good emotional series (against Cleveland). We looked mentally tired at times, making mistakes. Puck decision mistakes. Just not dropping passes.

“We have to recharge the batteries here. But I think just passing by [Game 1] it will help us move forward.”

Last year, the Bears took the first two games of the finals away, losing both of them. But they had a chance to know that they would be returning home to try to get back into the series.

However, that situation has changed this year. After tonight’s game, the series heads west to Acrisure Arena for the next three games. The Firebirds are 6-0 this postseason at home and went 20-10-3-3 there in regular season play.

Nelson knows his team will need a better performance tonight to avoid going to the Coachella Valley down two games to one. There was a puck mishandling that led John Hayden‘s shorthanded goal in the opening period. The Firebirds’ dangerous chasing game had it Ryan Winterton complete another first-time goal. Winterton and Hayden were both relieved to close low with their second goals of the night. Coachella Valley has turnovers, but it can also play a heavy floor game, and the Bears paid the price for both.

Nelson has won two Calder Cups as a head coach (and one title as a player and assistant coach), and he knows what the Bears are up against and what they need to fix. He addressed a number of areas that needed to be addressed before the puck dropped tonight.

“When you look at the four goals you face, they’re all avoidable,” said Nelson. “A group like Coachella, you have to make them achieve their goals because they are a very talented group, and they can finish. Just like we saw last year. We have to make it difficult for them.”

The Bears got into penalty trouble again in the third period. Trailing 4-2, they took four guys in a row to thwart their comeback attempt. Swinging 6-on-4 with the latest power play, Hendrix Lapierre managed to make it a one-goal lead with 1:56 to go in regulation, but the Bears ran out of time.

“All of a sudden you look up at the clock, and there’s four minutes left in the game,” Nelson said.

That brings Nelson to another topic. The Bears finished with 19 shots, including just nine over the last two periods. After Lapierre’s goal, they won by one more shot.

“We have to have the mindset to shoot when we get 6-on-5,” Nelson continued. “It’s good to pass the puck around the perimeter, but ultimately we have to get pucks and try to cause damage.”

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