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April 24. 2012 10:04PM

Ian Clark's On Hockey: A big night in NH and Boston

Today should feel like a holiday of sorts for Granite State hockey fans.

The Boston Bruins host the Washington Capitals at 7:30 p.m. in a do-or-die Game 7 of the NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinals while the Manchester Monarchs host Norfolk at 7 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Arena in a pivotal Game 3 of their best-of-five AHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

The Bruins game, being a win-or-go home scenario, means there will be a lot of chewed fingernails and accelerated pulse rates around New England tonight. That includes the players.

“I think these two things are there, nerves are there, excitement is there, but obviously confidence and wanting to go out there and having a winning attitude is very important,” said Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron. “Obviously, we respect Washington and we know they're a great team and have played well against us all series so it's going to be a tough game.”

The key for Boston tonight is the big guns. For the most part, Boston's top scorers from the regular season have been quiet in the first six games of the playoffs. That trend got turned around in Game 6's overtime win, where Tyler Seguin (goal, assist), David Krecji (goal, assist) and Milan Lucic (two assists) all came up with strong efforts.

Role-players such as Rich Peverley (three goals, two assists, five points), Brian Rolston (1-2-3), Andrew Ference (1-2-3), Chris Kelly (1-2-3) and Dennis Seidenberg (1-2-3) have carried a lot of the load so far.

Boston also needs goaltender Tim Thomas to step up in the big game. Thomas has been up-and-down all series, turning in some huge saves but also allowing several through that he probably should have had. But the confidence in him has not waned.

“When you know this goaltender because you've had him for such a long time, you know his character and you know how he is,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. “We're going back with him because he's going to stand tall and he likes those challenges and he thrives on those. And that's why he's been the type of goaltender he's been for years and that's why he's been recognized as one of the best.”

As for the Manchester game tonight, a win for the Monarchs would be huge. Due to scheduling issues in Norfolk, the top-ranked Admirals played Game 1 and 2 in Virginia. But Game 3 tonight, Game 4 Friday and Game 5 (if needed on Saturday) will all be played in Manchester.

The Monarchs' 5-2 win at Norfolk on Saturday was key for several reasons. First, it means No. 8 Manchester has three home games in which to try and win twice and close out the series against a heavily favored opponent.

Second, the Monarchs' win snapped a 29-game winning streak for Norfolk and gave Manchester the confidence to realize that the Admirals were not unsinkable.

“We gained some confidence, but more importantly, we showed that we could beat them whether it is a 29-game winning streak or just a regular playoff series,” said Monarchs forward David Meckler. “It was a huge game either way. We had to show that we could beat them and take one from them at home and now we come home and have some home ice.”

It also doesn't hurt that the Monarchs watched their NHL counterparts in Los Angeles, including players who were in Manchester this season such as Dwight King, Jordan Nolan and Slava Voynov, knock off President's Trophy winner Vancouver in five games.

“It shows everyone, including us, that anything can happen in the playoffs,” Meckler said. “It is a whole new year. Just because Norfolk is the one (seed) and we are eight doesn't mean anything. We have to come out here and do our thing.”

Monarchs head coach Mark Morris announced Tuesday he would start Martin Jones in goal, breaking the rotation with Jeff Zatkoff. Jones came on to relieve Zatkoff in Game 1, holding Norfolk scoreless and then started and won Game 2. “We have had recent success with his last two outings,” Morris said. “It is a fine line but if there is a call to be made, he appears to be the guy for us based on the recent success he has had.”

Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is iclark@unionleader.com.


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