Bears, Monarchs set to tangle

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The Eastern Conference championship series gets underway Wednesday night as the Hershey Bears and Manchester Monarchs battle for the right to play for the Calder Cup.

The Bears will have had 12 full days off between games by the time the puck drops for Game 1 of the best-of-seven series, after sweeping away the Albany River Rats to win their fourth East Division playoff title in five years.

Hershey is 8-1 in the playoffs after a 60-win regular season, but the road to the conference finals has had plenty of bumps as the Bears have staged six third-period comebacks and have prevailed in four trips to overtime already this postseason.

Hershey features the AHL’s top three playoff scorers in Alexandre Giroux (10-7-17), Chris Bourque (4-11-15) and Andrew Gordon (9-5-14), as well as the league’s assists leader in Keith Aucoin (1-12-13). The Bears have scored 4.44 goals per game in the postseason and have converted on 25 percent of their power plays, but will be running into a Manchester club that has allowed a league-low 1.50 goals per game in the playoffs to date.

After a third-place finish in the regular season, Manchester got past second-place Portland and division-champion Worcester to represent the Atlantic Division in the conference finals for the second time in four years.

The Monarchs have been riding the white-hot goaltending of Baz Bastien Award winner Jonathan Bernier, who has stopped 296 of 311 shots for a 1.48 goals-against average and .952 save percentage in 10 starts, and the timely scoring of Bud Holloway, whose six game-winning goals in the first two rounds have already tied the AHL record for an entire postseason.

Eastern Conference Finals – Series “M” (best-of-7)
E1-Hershey Bears vs. A3-Manchester Monarchs || Series Preview

Game 1 – Wed., May 12 – Manchester at Hershey, 7:00
Game 2 – Sat., May 15 – Manchester at Hershey, 7:00
Game 3 – Mon., May 17 – Hershey at Manchester, 7:00
Game 4 – Tue., May 18 – Hershey at Manchester, 7:00
*Game 5 – Thu., May 20 – Hershey at Manchester, 7:00
*Game 6 – Sat., May 22 – Manchester at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 7 – Sun., May 23 – Manchester at Hershey, 5:00
   *if necessary… All times Eastern

These teams are meeting in the playoffs for the second time, with Hershey beating Manchester in four straight to win the 2007 Eastern Conference championship… Reaching the conference finals for the fourth time in five years, Hershey has now won 54 of 76 playoff games (.711) and 13 of 15 series since the start of the 2006 postseason… The Bears and Monarchs met twice early in the regular season, with each team winning on the other’s home ice… Hershey enters the series having won 10 straight and 34 of its last 35 at Giant Center… The Bears’ roster features three native New Englanders in Keith Aucoin, John Carlson and Chris Bourque, who tallied 4-7-11 in four games vs. Albany in round two… Manchester’s Bud Holloway extended his scoring streak to 10 games (6-5-11) with an assist on Viatcheslav Voynov’s series-clinching overtime goal in Game 6 vs. Worcester… Monarchs general manager Ron Hextall backstopped the Bears to the Calder Cup Finals in 1986.