Manchester's Matt Leitner, left, is among the ECHL postseason scoring leaders. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)
ECHL Eastern Conference Finals
Game 1: Friday, at South Carolina, 7:05 p.m.
Game 2: Saturday, at South Carolina, 7:05 p.m.
Game 3: Monday, May 15, at South Carolina, 7:05 p.m.
Game 4: Friday, May 19, at Manchester, 7 p.m.
*Game 5: Saturday, May 20, at Manchester, 6 p.m.
*Game 6: Monday, May 22, at Manchester, 7 p.m.
*Game 7: Wednesday, May 24, at Manchester, 7 p.m.
*- if necessary
HOOKSETT — Manchester Monarchs forward Matt Leitner admitted that he and his teammates are a bit fatigued and banged up by this point in the playoffs. They are also feeling confident and motivated to bring Manchester to its first Kelly Cup Finals in just its second ECHL season.
“Now we’ve been in the playoffs for two series so I think we’re comfortable with where we’re at and we’re ready to go,” Leitner said after practice at the Ice Den Tuesday. “Everyone is determined to keep going.”
Only the South Carolina Stingrays stand between Manchester and a trip to the league finals.
The Monarchs and South Carolina will begin their best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals series tonight at 7:05 p.m. at the North Charleston Coliseum in North Charleston, S.C. The first three games will be played in North Charleston. Manchester will host the final four games of the series.
The Stingrays, ECHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals, defeated Greenville, four games to two, in the first round of the playoffs before knocking off Florida in five games to advance to the conference finals.
Manchester went 2-3 over its five regular-season meetings with the Stingrays. The Monarchs beat South Carolina twice at SNHU Arena but lost both times the teams played in North Charleston.
Leitner (six goals, eight assists) and South Carolina forwards Rob Flick (seven goals, six assists) and Domenic Monardo (five goals, eight assists) are among the top eight postseason scoring leaders. Flick is a former Providence Bruin and Portland Pirate in the AHL; Monardo, 28, once played for the Springfield Falcons in the AHL and played briefly earlier this season for Hershey of the AHL.
Stingrays goaltender Parker Milner’s 1.83 goals-against average ranks second in the playoffs, two spots ahead of Manchester netminder Sam Brittain (2.09). Former Boston College Eagle Milner, 26, is also tied for third in save percentage (.932) while Brittain (.931) ranks fifth.
“They’ve beaten a couple of good teams already, so you know they’re battle-tested too,” Brittain said of the Stingrays. “They’ve got some big, offensive forwards so, for us, it’s just going to be about containing and playing our game (and) managing the puck.”
Monarchs coach Rich Seeley said the pressure situations his team found itself in earlier this postseason against Adirondack and Brampton will prove beneficial against the Stingrays.
Over the Monarchs’ 12 playoff games, six have been decided by one goal, including two overtime contests, and four have been decided by two goals. Brittain said Manchester has learned from times this postseason where it has had to come back from a one-goal deficit in the third period or maintain a one-goal lead.
“I think whenever you have those situations and are able to have positive outcomes, it’s something we can build off of,” Seeley said.
Brittain expects special-teams play will be a big factor in the conference finals. Manchester owns the fifth-best penalty-kill percentage (88) and power-play percentage (19.2) in the postseason entering the series. South Carolina owns the top penalty-kill percentage (92.3) and ranks ninth in power-play percentage (16.3).
“I think the biggest thing is just going to be just to win those special-teams battles,” Brittain said. “They’re going to have a good power play and penalty kill and so are we. It’s just a matter of not taking a lot of penalties and capitalizing on our power play.”
Leitner echoed Brittain’s sentiments about Manchester needing to make the most of its power-play chances. Leitner also expressed that the Monarchs have to work hard in front of Brittain, who he said has been a brick wall this postseason.
“It’s playoff hockey so you know it’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be a grind,” Leitner said. “If we come and work harder than they do, we’ll get the results we want, I think.”