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Playoff magic

Jamie Benn scored 41 points in 82 NHL games with Dallas this season and has 17 points in 13 Calder Cup playoff games with the Texas Stars. (Photo courtesy the Texas Stars)

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Jamie Benn scored 41 points in 82 NHL games with Dallas this season and has 17 points in 13 Calder Cup playoff games with the Texas Stars. (Photo courtesy the Texas Stars)

Life looked good for the Hershey Bears as they packed the team bus and headed to New Hampshire last weekend after taking the first two games of their conference final series with the Manchester Monarchs.

Now the Bears own a few more challenges in their battle with the Monarchs, Baz Bastien Award winner Jonathan Bernier being the biggest.

The Monarchs snagged Games 3 and 4 back on Manchester ice and have changed the complexion of the series considerably. In Game 4, Bernier handed the Bears their first shutout of the playoffs and their first blanking overall since a loss at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in February. Over the first two playoff rounds, Hershey ravaged the Bridgeport and Albany defenses for a robust 4.44 goals per game and had the power play cranking at a 25 percent rate.

Manchester’s penalty-kill, however, has allowed just two goals on 17 Hershey opportunities. And Bernier has shaved Hershey’s offensive output to just 2.25 goals per game.

Bernier now boasts a 10-4 playoff record this spring with a 1.68 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage. But he’s not the only one stopping the Bears. In Game 4’s 1-0 win, Manchester limited the Bears to just five shots in the opening 20 minutes and 18 shots overall. Manchester also regained the services of top defensive prospect Thomas Hickey, who made his playoff debut in Game 3 after having been limited to just 19 regular season games.

That the Monarchs are giving the Bears a rough fight should not surprise. Last round, Manchester took out the Worcester Sharks, who had been the presumed opponent for the Bears in the Eastern Conference final. Bernier and the Monarchs opened the 2010 Calder Cup playoffs by taking out a very solid Portland side in a tidy four-game sweep.

The series resumes Thursday night and Manchester’s two wins have guaranteed the teams will have to return to Central Pennsylvania for a Game 6 Saturday night. A Game 7 that had seemed improbable just a few days ago would go Sunday at Hershey, if necessary.

Out west, Hamilton and Texas resume their series Wednesday night on Stars ice. Coach Guy Boucher’s Bulldogs possess a 2-0 series lead.

Boucher’s decision to hand the goaltending chores to veteran Curtis Sanford before Game 5 of the second round series with Abbotsford continues to yield results. Sanford has steered Hamilton to four consecutive wins and held Texas shooters to just three goals over Games 1 and 2 at Copps Coliseum.

The teams now play three games in four nights in Texas. Game 6, if necessary, would shift back to Hamilton Monday, May 24.

THIS & THAT
• Reports have circulated from the Memorial Cup that the Western League could supply the Syracuse Crunch with a new coach to begin a new affiliation with Anaheim. According to the Kamloops Daily News, Kootenay Ice coach Mark Holick would become the Crunch’s new bench boss, though no official comment has come forth from any of the camps involved. Holick told Syracuse’s Post-Standard, “I’m not sure I can comment on that at this point. I have to wait until everything’s done, if it’s done.”

• NHL clubs have started to organize their American League shelves for next season. Minnesota gave Houston’s leading scorer, Jean-Michel Daoust, a one-year deal for next season. The 26-year-old forward scored 21 goals and 55 points for the Aeros this season. The Wild also gave Chad Rau, who put up 19 goals as an Aeros rookie, a new two-year pact.

• Peoria should also have the services of Canadian League products Anthony Nigro and Tyler Shattock for next season. Shattock, a 2009 fourth-rounder, is competing in the Memorial Cup with Calgary after coming to the Hitmen in a trade from Kamloops this season and has assembled consecutive 30-goal seasons. Nigro posted 16 goals and 62 points in 61 games with the Ottawa 67’s this season and was a 2008 sixth round selection for the Blues.

From THN.com American League correspondent Patrick Williams, Around The AHL keeps tabs on the world's second best circuit, details all the news and notes and profiling prospects destined for the next level. It appears every weekend only on TheHockeyNews.com.

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