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Monarchs open up 3-0 series lead

The Manchester Monarchs are one win away from the franchise’s first-ever appearance in the Calder Cup Finals after a 5-3 win over Hartford in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the XL Center on Tuesday night.

The Monarchs have a commanding 3-0 series lead and can capture the Eastern Conference championship with a win in Game 4 on Wednesday.

Manchester took the game’s first eight shots on goal and grabbed a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard at the 5:11 mark of the first period. Mackenzie Skapski, making his first career playoff start in net for Hartford, gave up a couple of rebounds before Nick Shore finally capitalized. It was the goal of the series and third of the postseason for Shore, a 20-goal scorer during the regular season who also played 34 games in the NHL with Los Angeles.

Wolf Pack forward Chad Nehring, camped out to the right of Jean-Francois Berube, tied the score at 1-1 when he redirected a pass from Mat Bodie for a power-play goal at 13:47.

The Monarchs regained the lead with 33.9 seconds left in the opening period as a Hartford clearing attempt landed right on the stick of Brian O’Neill in front. O’Neill dropped a pass to Jordan Weal, who fed it back to O’Neill at the bottom of the left-wing circle where it was snapped home to give Manchester a 2-1 edge after the first.

Adrian Kempe was credited with the Monarchs’ third goal of the game, at 5:05 of the middle frame. During a goal-mouth scramble, Kempe chipped a shot that hit off the skate of one Wolf Pack defender and slid under a second defender and Skapski to give Manchester a 3-1 lead.

Connecticut native Sean Backman put the Monarchs in front 4-1 at 7:38 of the third period with his third goal of the series, leading a two-on-one rush and firing a slap shot from the left circle that beat Skapski.

Danny Kristo cashed in on a Wolf Pack power play with 7:44 left in regulation to cut the deficit to 4-2, but Zach O’Brien restored the three-goal lead with 6:00 to play, picking off a clearing try at the blue line and blowing a shot past Skapski to make it 5-2.

Joey Crabb finished the scoring with one-tenth of a second remaining, deflecting home a Michael Kostka shot from the point. The goal allowed Crabb to extend his point-scoring streak to nine games (6-4-10), longest in the AHL this postseason.

Manchester finished with a 34-20 advantage in shots on goal, allowing 20 shots or fewer for the seventh time in 13 playoff games.

Berube (10-3) stopped 17 shots in the win, while Skapski (0-1) finished with 29 saves in defeat.

Eastern Conference Finals – Series “M” (best-of-7)
1-Manchester Monarchs vs. 3-Hartford Wolf Pack
Game 1 – Thu., May 21 – MANCHESTER 3, Hartford 2
Game 2 – Sat., May 23 – MANCHESTER 7, Hartford 4
Game 3 – Tue., May 26 – Manchester 5, HARTFORD 3
Game 4 – Wed., May 27 – Manchester at Hartford, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sat., May 30 – Hartford at Manchester, 7:00
*Game 6 – Sun., May 31 – Manchester at Hartford, 7:00
*Game 7 – Tue., June 2 – Hartford at Manchester, 7:00
   *if necessary… All times Eastern