Hershey wins Eastern Conference crown

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The Hershey Bears have won the Richard F. Canning Trophy as the AHL’s Eastern Conference champions for 2009-10, claiming the title with a 3-2 overtime victory over the Manchester Monarchs in Game 6 of their best-of-seven series at the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa., on Saturday night.

The Bears are heading to the Calder Cup Finals for the fourth time in the five years since they became the top development affiliate of the Washington Capitals in 2005-06, and for the 22nd time overall, extending their own league record. Hershey has won a record 10 Calder Cups in franchise history, most recently in 2006 and 2009.

Boyd Kane, the captain of the Bears’ 2006 Calder Cup title team, scored the series-clinching goal on Saturday night at 7:06 of the third period as the Bears set an AHL record with their seventh overtime win of the postseason. Kane tallied his first goal of the playoffs and became the seventh different Bear to score an overtime marker this postseason.

Nine of Hershey’s 12 wins during the 2010 Calder Cup Playoffs have come after the Bears trailed in the third period, including Saturday’s clincher.

Looking to force a Game 7 on Sunday, Manchester built a 2-0 lead entering the third frame. John Zeiler put the Monarchs on the board with just 17 seconds left in the opening period, and defenseman Joe Piskula extended the advantage at 17:44 of the second.

Comeback Bears
Game 1 vs. BRIDown 3-1Won 4-3 (OT)
Game 2 vs. BRIDown 2-1Won 3-2
Game 1 vs. ALBDown 3-2Won 4-3 (OT)
Game 2 vs. ALBDown 3-2Won 6-3
Game 3 at ALBDown 4-3
Down 5-4
Won 6-5 (OT)
Game 4 at ALBDown 4-2Won 5-4 (OT)
Game 2 vs. MCHDown 2-1Won 3-2 (OT)
Game 5 at MCHDown 1-0
Down 2-1
Won 3-2 (OT)
Game 6 vs. MCHDown 2-0Won 3-2 (OT)

The Monarchs limited Hershey’s offensive opportunities early in the third period, but the Bears were energized when Alexandre Giroux put a rebound past Manchester goaltender Jonathan Bernier at the 7:37 mark, his team-best 12th goal of the playoffs.

Defenseman Patrick McNeill followed with the equalizer less than seven minutes later, burying a shot from the point through traffic for his first postseason goal. McNeill then joined Kyle Wilson in earning assists on Kane’s decisive overtime marker.

Bears goaltender Michal Neuvirth (10-2), the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs MVP, earned the victory in Game 6 with 32 saves on 34 shots.

The Monarchs fell to 0-8 all-time when facing postseason elimination.

In his first season as head coach, Mark French guided the Bears to one of the greatest regular seasons ever in the AHL, setting a league record with 60 wins and posting 123 points (60-17-0-3), the second-highest total in the AHL’s 74-year history. Hershey defeated Bridgeport in the division semifinals (4-1) and Albany in the division finals (4-0) before outlasting Manchester (4-2) for the Eastern Conference championship in a series that saw four of six games go to overtime.

Established in 1990, the AHL’s Eastern Conference championship trophy honors Richard F. Canning, who served the AHL for more than 50 years during his career, including a term as league president from 1958-61. Mr. Canning is recognized as the author of the AHL’s constitution, by-laws and regulations.

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

Game 1 – Wed., May 12 – HERSHEY 4, Manchester 2
Game 2 – Sat., May 15 – HERSHEY 3, Manchester 2 (OT)
Game 3 – Mon., May 17 – MANCHESTER 3, Hershey 2 (OT)
Game 4 – Tue., May 18 – MANCHESTER 1, Hershey 0
Game 5 – Thu., May 20 – Hershey 3, MANCHESTER 2 (OT)
Game 6 – Sat., May 22 – HERSHEY 3, Manchester 2 (OT)