While the LA Kings may not have made the playoffs this season, a Cup may still be in the cards for the organization this year. On top of their ECHL affiliate Ontario Reign making the conference finals, so did the Manchester Monarchs, who looks every part of a Calder Cup winning team.
After taking a 2-0 lead over the Portland Pirates in Round One, the Monarchs struggled, letting their longtime rivals draw the series even at two. Even in Game 5, the team nearly blew a multiple goal lead, before closing out the series with a series of quick goals in the third period.
Moving in to round two, faith may have began to falter amongst the Manchester fans. Having to face the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins stout defense and terrific goalie Matt Murray, there was room for concern after the team’s struggles against Portland. What the Monarchs did was nothing short of dominant, as they won the series 4-1 and did something nearly no one could do all year – light up the Rookie of the Year goalie.
Now, the team prepares for an Eastern Conference Final dance with the Hartford Wolf Pack, who beat the number two seeded Hershey Bears four games to two. In the regular season series, the Monarchs went 3-0-1 in the four games played, with their only loss coming in a shootout.
The Wolf Pack have been led by forwards Chris Bourque, Oscar Lindberg, and Chris Mueller, who have scored 14, 10, and nine points respectively through 11 playoff games. On the back end, highly touted prospects Brady Skjei and the hard hitting Dylan McIlrath and veteran Michael Kostka.
In net, a somewhat familiar face has led the way for Hartford. Yann Danis has started all 11 playoff games for the team. The ninth year pro started off the season in training camp for the Monarchs, as the team needed warm bodies while goalie JF Berube got a long look in training camp with the Kings.
When looking at this series, it wouldn’t be surprised to see the Monarchs make quick work of Hartford. Though the Wolf Pack are a solid team, they lack the star power that the Monarchs possess. As good as Bourque is, he is not nearly the same level of a player such as Jordan Weal, who has proven to be an elite-level AHL player through the regular season and on into the playoffs. These trends continue on down the lineup, save goaltending, which is a wash with the way Berube has played thus far in the postseason. In the battle of good versus great, great should win every time.
For the Wolf Pack to succeed, they must find a way to shut down Weal, which no one has been able to do thus far. Further complicating things is the fact that shutting down Weal only means more room to work Nick Shore, who has quietly played brilliant hockey himself.
Keys to the Monarchs’ success are simple – play the same brand of hockey the team has played all year. As stated in the playoff preview podcast done with John Hoven, fast starts are instrumental for the team’s success. Using their speed, breaking pucks out of their zone quickly, and being strong on the forecheck are also staples of Monarchs’ hockey, which must continue in this upcoming series.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Monarchs win the series 4-1 or 4-2, while likely taking every game on home ice.
Here's a full schedule for the Eastern Conference Finals: pic.twitter.com/1gDHw72vov
— Andy Tonge (@AndyTonge1) May 16, 2015
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