By: Nick Lanciani
Do you believe in Cleveland?
While Steph Curry might be crushing your dreams in the 2016 NBA Finals (and as a blog founded in Charlotte, NC we’re okay with that— we can be impartial when it comes to sports outside of hockey, right?), the Lake Erie Monsters are one win away from breaking Cleveland’s long awaited championship curse in professional sports.
They might be a minor league team, but they’re a major league team in your hearts, Ohio. Especially when you guys have to watch Columbus Blue Jackets games every now and then (okay, that was a low blow- I apologize).
But on Monday night, the Monsters defeated the Hershey Bears 3-2 in overtime in Game 3 of the 2016 Calder Cup Finals and took a 3-0 series lead.
Anton Forsberg made 17 saves on 19 shots against in goal for Lake Erie en route to the win, while Justin Peters stopped 25 of 28 shots on goal for Hershey in the loss.
Ryan Stanton kicked off the game’s scoring at 2:07 of the 1st period with his 3rd goal of the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs. Carter Camper and Riley Barber picked up the assists on the goal that made it a 1-0 game for Hershey early in the first period. Stanton’s goal marked just the second time in the series that the Bears had a 1-0 lead.
But Oliver Bjorkstrand continued his fantastic play in the series and fired a one-timer past Peters to tie the game at 1-1, over four minutes after Hershey opened the scoring. Bjorkstrand’s 8th of the postseason was assisted by Lukas Sedlak and Brett Gallant at 6:44 of the first period and was the first of two goals on the night for Bjorkstrand.
After twenty minutes of play, the game was tied 1-1. Lake Erie led in shots on goal 11-6 after the first period and looked to capitalize on their home ice advantage coming out of the first intermission.
Daniel Zaar scored the go ahead go for the Monsters on the power play at 18:13 of the 2nd period. Dean Kukan and Alex Broadhurst recorded the primary and secondary assists on Zaar’s 7th goal of the playoffs.
But Lake Erie could not maintain a 2-1 lead for long, as the Bears found a way to tie the game almost 50 seconds later.
Dustin Gazley fired a shot past Forsberg’s glove and made it a 2-2 game with one minute remaining in the second period. The goal was Gazley’s 4th of the playoffs and was assisted by Zach Sill and Ryan Bourque at 19:00 of the 2nd.
Lake Erie continued to lead in the shots on goal department 20-13 at the end of forty minutes of play.
A scoreless third period resulted in a necessary sudden death overtime that would only last 1:20 when Bjorkstrand secured the win with a game winning goal. His 9th goal of the postseason, Bjorkstrand’s goal was assisted by Zach Werenski and Steve Eminger.
With the win, the Lake Erie Monsters have a 3-0 series lead heading into Game 4 on Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena.
While their arena roommates, the Cleveland Cavaliers, are at home battling the Golden State Warriors for the 2016 NBA Championship, the Monsters will be getting ready for Saturday’s chance at Cleveland’s first AHL championship since the 1964 Cleveland Barons won the Calder Cup.
A win on Saturday would also be Cleveland’s first professional sports league championship since the 1964 Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship Game (pre-Super Bowl era).
Lake Erie has now taken a 3-0 series lead in all four rounds of the Calder Cup Playoffs and is looking to sweep the Hershey Bears, which would provide the franchise with their first Calder Cup Championship in history.