SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The puck will drop at Copps Coliseum on Friday night with the Hamilton Bulldogs meeting the Texas Stars for the American Hockey League’s Western Conference championship.
The first-year Stars earned a trip to the AHL’s final four with a dramatic 6-5 overtime victory in Chicago on Tuesday night, rallying from 2-0, 4-2 and 5-4 down to advance on rookie Jamie Benn’s goal 4:57 into the extra session. The 20-year-old Benn, who notched 22 goals and 19 assists while skating for Dallas in the NHL during the regular season, is tied for second in the entire AHL in playoff scoring with 8-7-15 in 11 contests and tied with teammate Maxime Fortunus for the league lead with a plus-10 rating.
Brent Krahn (7-3, 2.32, .928) started every playoff game for Texas before an injury in Game 6 vs. Chicago returned Matt Climie to the crease. Climie, who helped Houston to the Western Conference Finals last spring, had a 2.46 GAA and a .919 save percentage in 42 regular-season appearances for the Stars and got the win in Game 7 on Tuesday.
The Bulldogs are in the conference finals for the fourth time in nine years, tied with Hershey and Chicago for the most appearances since the league’s 2001 expansion, after the North Division champions finished off Abbotsford with a 4-0 win in Game 6 on Monday night. Curtis Sanford (2-0, 1.00, .968), who along with Cedrick Desjardins (6-4, 2.62, .902) formed the top goaltending tandem in the AHL during the regular season, earned his first career playoff shutout in the series clincher.
Mike Glumac leads the Bulldogs with eight postseason goals, Andre Benoit is first with eight assists and David Desharnais is atop the scoring page with 13 points as Hamilton has gotten offensive contributions from 19 different players during their playoff run so far.
Western Conference Finals – Series “N” (best-of-7)
N1-Hamilton Bulldogs vs. W2-Texas Stars || Series Preview
Game 1 – Fri., May 14 – Texas at Hamilton, 7:30
Game 2 – Sun., May 16 – Texas at Hamilton, 2:00
Game 3 – Wed., May 19 – Hamilton at Texas, 8:30
Game 4 – Fri., May 21 – Hamilton at Texas, 8:30
*Game 5 – Sat., May 22 – Hamilton at Texas, 8:00
*Game 6 – Mon., May 24 – Texas at Hamilton, 7:30
*Game 7 – Wed., May 26 – Texas at Hamilton, 7:30
*if necessary… All times Eastern
The Western Conference Finals series is a battle of rookie AHL head coaches, with Louis A.R. Pieri Award winner Guy Boucher leading his Hamilton Bulldogs against Glen Gulutzan’s Texas Stars… The Bulldogs owned the AHL’s top-ranked defense in the league during the regular season, while the Stars were tied for second… Hamilton is vying for its fourth trip to the Calder Cup Finals (1997, 2003, 2007)… Texas is the first AHL team to reach the conference finals in their inaugural season since the Binghamton Senators in 2003… The Stars’ roster features three former Calder Cup champions in Landon Wilson (1999), Andrew Hutchinson (2004) and Dan Jancevski, who captured the title with Hamilton in 2007… Defenseman Andre Benoit is the only current Bulldog who was on that ’07 squad… Hamilton enters the series with a 6-0 postseason record when Mike Glumac (8-2-10) scores a goal, and Texas is 6-0 when Jamie Benn (8-7-15) records a point… The Bulldogs are second in the AHL in playoff penalty killing at home (92.9 percent) but last on the road (63.0 percent)… Since a 5-0 home loss to Texas on Feb. 16, Hamilton is 26-7-0-3 overall and 16-3-0-1 at Copps Coliseum.