Rockford, Ill.- The Texas Stars became the final piece of the Conference Finals puzzle on Tuesday when they beat the Chicago Wolves in Game 7 of the West Division Finals at the Allstate Arena.
The Stars will face the Hamilton Bulldogs in the best-of-seven Western Conference championship beginning on Friday at Copps Coliseum in Ontario.
On the other side of the map, the Hershey Bears host the Manchester Monarchs in the Eastern Conference champions starting tonight at the Giant Center.
The first-year Stars earned a trip to the next round with a dramatic 6-5 overtime victory in Chicago, 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 Calder Cup playoff scoring with 8g-7a-15pts in 11 contests and tied with teammate Maxime Fortunus for the league lead with a +10 rating.
Brent Krahn (7-3, 2.32, .928) started every playoff game for Texas before an injury in Game 6 against 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
Game 1 – Fri., May 14 – Texas at Hamilton, 6:30
Game 2 – Sun., May 16 – Texas at Hamilton, 1:00
Game 3 – Wed., May 19 – Hamilton at Texas, 7:30
Game 4 – Fri., May 21 – Hamilton at Texas, 7:30
*Game 5 – Sat., May 22 – Hamilton at Texas, 7:00
*Game 6 – Mon., May 24 – Texas at Hamilton, 6:30
*Game 7 – Wed., May 26 – Texas at Hamilton, 6:30
*if necessary… All times Central
The Bears will have had 12 full days off between games by the time the puck drops for Game 1, 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 (10g-7a-17pts), Chris Bourque (4g-11a-15pts) and Andrew Gordon (9g-5a-14pts), as well as the league’s assists leader in Keith Aucoin (1g-12a-13pts). 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
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