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April 14. 2012 6:55PM

Monarchs boost playoff chances, top Bears, 5-1

Manchester's Richard Clune (13) and Hershey's Kevin Marshall (4) get tangled up in the crease during the first period of Saturday's AHL game at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. (JOSH GIBNEY/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER – The Manchester Monarchs skated one step closer to securing a playoff spot with a 5-1 win over Hershey in front of 7,501 fans at Verizon Wireless Arena on Saturday afternoon.

The Monarchs improved to 38-32-5 for 81 points, leaving them in seventh place (and in the playoffs) in the Eastern Conference heading into Saturday night's AHL slate. A win Sunday at home against St. John's (3 p.m.) would put Manchester into the postseason for certain.

Manchester could hold onto the seventh seed with a win and losses from No. 9 Syracuse Saturday night (against Connecticut) and Sunday (at Albany). No. 8 Portland (36-30-9, 81) is the other team to watch. The Pirates play today at Providence and if Manchester loses but Portland also loses, Manchester would have the tiebreaker advantage thanks to more non-overtime wins.

But the bottom line for the Monarchs is win Sunday and they're in.

"It doesn't get any more fun than this," said Monarchs forward Stefan Legein, who had a shorthanded goal and an assist Saturday. "It's obviously the biggest game of the year, but it's the biggest game in a lot of guys' careers because I know I've never played in the playoffs in this league and it's something I want to do. It's going to be a fun game."

The Monarchs played a total team game to beat Hershey on Saturday, with 10 different players notching points in the game, shorthanded and power-play goals and solid goaltending from Jeff Zatkoff (19 saves).

"I thought our group effort was superior. That's one of the best team wins we've had," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "The guys all played the systems to a T and we had good goaltending and our penalty kill when we needed it was good. Our power-play puck movement was great and we got participation from all four lines and all six (defensemen). It was a pretty complete effort."

Manchester took a 1-0 lead at 5:34 of the first period. Off a faceoff win in the Hershey zone, Monarch David Meckler took the puck around the net for a wraparound try that goalie Daren Machesney stopped. But the puck popped out to Rich Clune crashing the net and went off Clune's skate and then his stick and in. The officials discussed the play, but the goal stood.

The teams got into a tussle with 11:18 remaining in the first. Clune got tied up in the Hershey net with Bears defenseman Kevin Marshall. Hershey's Joel Rechlicz skated all the way from his bench to grab Clune. The end result was a Hershey power play thanks to a holding penalty on Clune and the rest of the afternoon off for Rechlicz, who was given a game misconduct penalty.

Hershey scored on the power play to tie the game at 1-1 at 10:24. Chris Bourque set up the goal by faking a shot and slipping into the left circle before threading a cross-ice pass to Ryan Potulny for a tough angle one-timer from the low right circle that beat Zatkoff.

The Monarchs reclaimed the lead at 2-1 at the 14:00 mark on Legein's shorthanded goal. Marc-Andre Cliché chipped the puck away just inside the Manchester blue line, sending Legein racing in alone the other way for a backhand shot over the sprawling Machesney. It was Legein's AHL-tops fifth shorthanded goal of the season and is a franchise record.

Manchester pushed the lead to 3-1 at 16:53 of the first. Defenseman Nick Deslauriers sent a shot on net from the left point and Linden Vey tipped it in front, altering it just enough for the puck to slip through Machesney's pads.

The Monarchs scored once more in each the second and third periods to put the game away. Defenseman Patrick Mullen scored his 12th of the season, blasting a slap shot from the slot to beat Machesney high glove-side at 19:44 of the second and Justin Azevedo notched his 28th by redirecting a Legein pass from the right doorstep at 5:26 of the third.

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Sunday's Monarchs game should leave the fans heading home happy regardless of the outcome. The annual Fan Appreciation day will feature Clune bobblehead dolls for the first 2,000 fans into the building and the "Shirt off our Back" promotion where winning fans will be presented the actual jerseys the players wear in the game. Fans can buy $1 raffle tickets and place them in the bucket for the player whose jersey they hope to win.

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With the game well in hand midway through the third period Saturday, Morris opted to give his rookie fourth line a lot of ice time over the final 10:00 of the game. Robbie Czarnik has played in 48 games now, but linemates Brian O'Neill (11 games) and Andy Andreoff (four games) are still easing in.

"It is important, especially when they get out against the other team's top line," Morris said of the extra minutes. "It helps the younger players gain some confidence and is a bit of a bone for them to reward them with the ice time they're always looking for."

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The Monarchs don't look to be getting roster help from the parent club in Los Angeles any time soon. That's because the No. 8 Kings are up 2-0 in their first round series with top-ranked (and President's Trophy winner) Vancouver. Game 3 is Sunday night at 10:30.

The Kings won both games in Vancouver and return to L.A. with a chance to put the best-of-seven series away on home ice. Several of this year's Manchester call-ups are contributing to the Kings' success.

Chief among them is winger Dwight King, who has been logging solid time on a line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. Defenseman Slava Voynov has also been playing a lot, skating just under 19:00 minutes in Friday's win.

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