SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Four Eastern Conference teams made quick work of their first-round opponents, allowing the first two division finals series to get underway this weekend.
In the Atlantic Division, the Worcester Sharks dropped Game 1 on home ice before winning four straight from the Lowell Devils, advancing to the second round for the second year in a row. The Sharks prevailed even with captain Ryan Vesce, who scored the overtime winner in Game 2, missing the final three games of the series due to injury, and with AHL All-Rookie forward Logan Couture skating in the NHL playoffs for San Jose.
The Sharks will square off against a Manchester team that swept away second-place Portland in four straight behind the stellar goaltending of Jonathan Bernier, who allowed just five goals on 130 shots (1.24, .962) in the series, and the timely scoring of Bud Holloway, who was credited with all four game-winning goals, including a pivotal overtime score in Game 3.
After a record-setting regular season, the Hershey Bears got a bit of a test from Bridgeport but still dispatched the game Sound Tigers in five. Hershey won Games 1 and 2 despite trailing in the third period both nights, but showed flashes of their dominance by scoring six times in the second period of Game 3 and by outshooting Bridgeport by a 34-7 margin in Game 5.
The Bears will meet up with Albany in the East Division finals after the River Rats knocked out Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in four straight, winning three one-goal games before icing a 5-3 win in the clincher with an empty-netter.
All four division semifinal series in the Western Conference could be wrapped up tonight. In the North Division, Hamilton holds a 3-1 series lead over Manitoba while Rochester is up 3-1 on Abbotsford; in the West Division, Chicago leads Milwaukee three games to two and Texas has a 3-0 advantage over Rockford.
Atlantic Division Finals – Series “I” (best-of-7)
A1-Worcester Sharks vs. A3-Manchester Monarchs || Series Preview
Game 1 – Sun., Apr. 25 – Manchester at Worcester, 3:05
Game 2 – Wed., Apr. 28 – Manchester at Worcester, 7:05
Game 3 – Fri., Apr. 30 – Worcester at Manchester, 7:30
Game 4 – Sat., May 1 – Worcester at Manchester, 7:00
*Game 5 – Wed., May 5 – Manchester at Worcester, 7:05
*Game 6 – Fri., May 7 – Worcester at Manchester, 7:30
*Game 7 – Sat., May 8 – Manchester at Worcester, 7:05
East Division Finals – Series “J” (best-of-7)
E1-Hershey Bears vs. E2-Albany River Rats || Series Preview
Game 1 – Sat., Apr. 24 – Albany at Hershey, 7:00
Game 2 – Sun., Apr. 25 – Albany at Hershey, 5:00
Game 3 – Tue., Apr. 27 – Hershey at Albany, 7:00
Game 4 – Thu., Apr. 29 – Hershey at Albany, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sat., May 1 – Albany at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 6 – Mon., May 3 – Hershey at Albany, 7:00
*Game 7 – Wed., May 5 – Albany at Hershey, 7:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern