If it's true that a playoff series doesn't truly begin until one team wins on the road, then consider the AHL Calder Cup Finals to be officially underway.
Trailing 1-0 after one period, Lake Erie tied it up in the second period and pulled away with three goals in the third to notch a 4-1 victory over the Hershey Bears Wednesday night in Hershey's Giant Center.
Anton Forsberg continued his run of stellar playoff goaltending, running his postseason record to 6-0 with a clutch 26-save performance. When the score was 1-1 and the game still hung in the balance, Forsberg came up with a series of great stops to keep his team in the game – which of course is all you can ask of your netminder.
Daniel Zaar opened the Monsters' scoring on a breakway nearly eight minutes into the middle period. Hershey goalie Justin Peters had been impenetrable to that point, but as Zaar skated toward his net, Peters remained upright and left the entire lower portion of the goal open. Zaar, surely grateful for Peters' generosity, responded by zipping a shot along the ice that beat Peters low glove side and tied it at 1.
It was, incidentally, the Monsters' fourth breakaway of the night to that point. Hershey seemed to gets its signals crossed on defensive coverage more than once, but each time Peters cleaned up his teammates' mistakes with good positioning and well-timed saves...that is, until Zaar solved him.
Trent Vogelhuber got the game-winner 5½ minutes into the third on a sharp-angle shot that really wasn't a shot at all. Skating near the goal line to the left of the Hershey net, Vogelhuber was being marked by a Hershey defender when he attempted a centering pass to linemate Ryan Craig near the top of the crease. The pass hit the Hershey defender's stick, changing the puck's direction and sending it short side past a leaning Peters.
Eight minutes later, Zaar struck again with his fifth goal of the playoffs, this time making Bears defender Ryan Stanton his victim. Stanton had the puck deep in his own zone when Zaar descended on him, cleanly picked his pocket, quickly turned and pushed a backhander into the net that silenced the Giant Center crowd of 8,875 for good and made it 3-1.
Markus Hannikainen capped the scoring less than two minutes after that when he deflected a Dean Kukan snap shot in front.
Forsberg then had to make one more stellar save in the dying seconds before the Monsters could skate away with a three-goal victory and a 1-0 series lead.
It should be noted that this is not the first time Hershey has been down in a series this postseason. The Bears had two series go the distance and know what it means to come back from a deficit. On the other hand, it was only the second time Hershey has lost in these playoffs after scoring the game's first goal, so you can be sure the Bears are scratching their heads a bit heading into Game 2.
Speaking of Game 2, it happens Friday night at 7, again at the Giant Center. Games 3, 4 and (if needed) 5 will all be in Cleveland next week. For now, though, the Monsters can enjoy the playoff magic that pulled another rabbit out of the hat for them Wednesday evening.
If they manage to do that three more times, they'll claim Cleveland's first Calder Cup championship since 1964.
However it plays out, it promises to be a memorable series.