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Conference finals previews

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … With two rounds down and two to go, one of the most memorable Calder Cup postseasons in recent memory is only halfway over, and four teams are left in their pursuit of a Calder Cup championship.

The Western Conference Finals were set after a pair of historic Game 7’s earlier this week. In the North Division, the Hamilton Bulldogs outlasted the Manitoba Moose at Copps Coliseum on Monday evening, finally advancing on Dustin Boyd’s goal six seconds into triple overtime; no seventh game in AHL history had ever extended to a second OT period, let alone a third. Hamilton reached the conference finals for the fifth time in the last 10 seasons, and will be looking for the franchise’s fourth trip to the Calder Cup Finals (1997, 2003, 2007).

The Houston Aeros captured the West Division playoff title on Tuesday with a 4-2 win in Milwaukee, as rookie Casey Wellman scored the series-winning goal with 1:21 left in the third period of Game 7. The Aeros have won all five of their Game 7’s since joining the AHL in 2001-02, and even more impressively all five of those victories have come on the road. This is Houston’s fourth conference finals appearance in their 10 AHL campaigns.

The Eastern Conference Finals will start in Charlotte after the first-year Checkers finished off Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in six games. Charlotte, which eliminated the two-time defending Calder Cup champions from Hershey in the first round, ousted the 2010-11 regular-season champion Penguins on the strength of a Game 6 comeback that saw the Checkers score four times in 9:18 during the third period to erase a 3-0 deficit.

Charlotte will face Binghamton for the right to represent the East in the Calder Cup Finals. The Senators finished fifth in the East Division during the regular season and earned the cross-over berth from the Atlantic Division, where they eliminated Manchester and Portland. Binghamton’s triumph over the Pirates in the division finals was punctuated by Robin Lehner’s 36-save shutout in the Game 6 clincher, and sends the Senators to the conference finals for the first time since 2003.

DIVISION FINALS NOTES … Manitoba finished its postseason run with a 4-1 record when facing elimination, and rookie goaltender Eddie Lack allowed four goals on 170 shots (0.71, .976) in those five games… Milwaukee’s Ryan Thang led all AHL scorers in the second round with nine points (3-6-9)… Charlotte’s Mike Murphy (1.49, .955) and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Brad Thiessen (1.66, .939) combined to make the Checkers-Penguins series the lowest-scoring six-game matchup in AHL history with 20 total goals scored… Houston joined the Maine Mariners (5-0) as the only franchises in AHL history to win five Game 7’s in their history without a loss, and the Aeros became the first team ever with five Game 7 road victories to its credit… Houston also extended its streak of consecutive playoff overtime wins to 11 before falling in Game 6 to Milwaukee… Eleven of the first 12 series in this year’s Calder Cup Playoffs have gone at least six games… Thirty-nine of 74 games (52.7 percent) through the first two rounds have been decided by a single goal, including 18 overtime contests.

Eastern Conference Finals – Series “M” (best-of-7)
E3-Charlotte Checkers vs. E5-Binghamton Senators
|| Series Preview
Game 1 – Thu., May 12 – Binghamton at Charlotte, 7:05
Game 2 – Fri., May 13 – Binghamton at Charlotte, 7:05
Game 3 – Tue., May 17 – Charlotte at Binghamton, 7:05
Game 4 – Wed., May 18 – Charlotte at Binghamton, 7:05
*Game 5 – Sat., May 21 – Charlotte at Binghamton, 7:05
*Game 6 – Mon., May 23 – Binghamton at Charlotte, 7:05
*Game 7 – Tue., May 24 – Binghamton at Charlotte, 7:05

Western Conference Finals – Series “N” (best-of-7)
W2-Houston Aeros vs. N1-Hamilton Bulldogs
|| Series Preview
Game 1 – Fri., May 13 – Hamilton at Houston, 8:35
Game 2 – Sun., May 15 – Hamilton at Houston, 5:05
Game 3 – Tue., May 17 – Houston at Hamilton, 7:30
Game 4 – Wed., May 18 – Houston at Hamilton, 7:30
*Game 5 – Fri., May 20 – Houston at Hamilton, 7:30
*Game 6 – Sun., May 22 – Hamilton at Houston, 5:05
*Game 7 – Tue., May 24 – Hamilton at Houston, 8:05

*if necessary… All times Eastern