Monsters updates

The Calder Cup came to Cleveland in 2016. Can the Monsters do it again?

Time will tell, but it’s the best time of year – playoff hockey time – in the Forest City. The Monsters, the minor league affiliate of the Blue Jackets, are competing in the American Hockey League postseason for the first time since 2019.

The hope is to win it all, just like a young squad featuring a bunch of future NHLers did eight years ago. This year’s Cleveland squad has a good mix of prospects and veterans, and it features 11 players who suited up for the Blue Jackets this year and six others who have NHL experience with Columbus.

The champion of the AHL North Division, Cleveland began the playoffs with a best-of-five division semifinal series against Belleville, which it won 3-1, before sweeping Syracuse in three games to win the division final. The Monsters now move on to the AHL Eastern Conference final to take on defending AHL champ Hershey in a best-of-seven series.

The schedule for the series is below along with our previous coverage of the Monsters. This article will be updated with results throughout the series.

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Upcoming Games

AHL Eastern Conference Final

Game 1: Thursday, May 30 at Hershey, 7 p.m.

Game 2: Saturday, June 1 at Hershey, 7 p.m.

Game 3: Tuesday, June 4 vs. Hershey, 7 p.m.

Game 4: Thursday, June 6 vs. Hershey, 7 p.m.

*Game 5: Saturday, June 8 vs. Hershey, 7 p.m.

*Game 6: Monday, June 10 at Hershey, 7 p.m.

*Game 7: Wednesday, June 12 at Hershey, 7 p.m.

*if necessary

Game Recaps

North Division Final

Game 3: Cleveland 6, Syracuse 4

Stats

Get out the brooms, Cleveland is headed to the Eastern Conference final!

The Monsters were without standout goalie Jet Greaves on Wednesday night in Syracuse, but it didn't matter as six different players scored in Cleveland's sweep-clinching victory over the Crunch.

In a topsy-turvy game that both teams led at one point, Cleveland responded to all challenges to put away their division rival. Jake Gaudet, Stefan Matteau, Alex Whelan, Josh Dunne, Luca Del Bel Belluz and Roman Ahcan scored as the Monsters had their best offensive output of the postseason.

Gaudet tallied in the first and Matteau in the second, but Cleveland was down 3-2 before a wild third period. Goals by Whelan and Dunne put the Monsters ahead, but Syracuse tied the game with 3:28 to go with Alex Barre-Boulet's second goal of the night. Just 70 seconds later, though, rookie second-round draft pick Del Bel Belluz got the series-winning goal, and Ahcan's empty-netter sealed things.

In relief of Greaves, veteran goalie Malcolm Subban made 25 saves.

Game 2: Cleveland 4, Syracuse 1

Highlights | Stats

Cleveland moved within a victory of advancing to the AHL's final four on Saturday afternoon, coming back to beat Syracuse by a 4-1 score in front of another raucous crowd of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

The team went into a 1-0 hole early as Devante Stephens scored a power-play goal for the Crunch, but Cleveland rallied to take the lead before the end of the opening frame. Billy Sweezey tied the score, throwing the puck on net from the right boards and sneaking it by goalie Brandon Halverson at the near post on a goal that required a lengthy video review to confirm. Later in the period, Halverson lost the puck off his stick and Hunter McKown took advantage, grabbing the turnover and flipping a backhander over the goalie.

Jakub Zboril's power-play blast early in the third extended the lead to 3-1 and Alex Whelan added an empty-netter, while Jet Greaves did the rest with 17 saves in his fifth straight win.

"I thought we were just quicker to get to the puck and get to the areas in both ends of the rink," head coach Trent Vogelhuber said. "Last game, I thought they out-supported us. I thought we did a better job of skating to the puck, second and third man even in both ends, and then you give yourself a chance to win those 50-50 battles because you have at least even numbers. And I'll take our group at even numbers competing for pucks against most."

Game 1: Cleveland 1, Syracuse 0

Highlights | Stats

They don't come easy this time of year, but the Monsters are used to it.

In another low-scoring, hard-fought battle, Justin Pearson's shorthanded goal early in the third period was the difference Thursday night as Cleveland opened the AHL North Division final with a 1-0 win over Syracuse at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

The teams were knotted 0-0 through 40 minutes before Pearson's goal made the difference. It was a fantastic individual effort, as the Monsters forward intercepted a drop pass, deked out one defender, cut across another and beat goalie Brandon Halverson for the only tally of the game.

Cleveland finished it off from there, with goalie Jet Greaves making 28 saves in his first career playoff shutout.

North Division Semifinal

Game 4: Cleveland 3, Belleville 1

Highlights | Stats

Friday night's clinching Game 4 win over Belleville was about tonight, but it was also a long time coming, too.

The close-knit Monsters have gone through plenty the past few years, building a brotherhood, and the franchise's first playoff series win since 2019 sure feels good with that in mind.

"It's great," third-year Cleveland defenseman Billy Sweezey said after the Monsters' 3-1 win to capture the series three games to one. "It's emotional on the ice, it's emotional in the room when the guys come back in after the games. We've been building a culture here. We've been building a team here. Everyone is just playing really good hockey right now and contributing, and that's what you need to keep playing games this time of year."

Marcus Bjork had a goal and an assist in the clinching win, while Owen Sillinger and Justin Pearson also scored. Jet Greaves turned in another beauty, stopping 32 shots.

It didn't take long for Cleveland to get on the board in the clinching win, as Bjork's shot deflected and looped over Belleville goalie Leevi Merilainen just 1:39 into the game to make it 1-0. Stephen Halliday's power-play goal tied things for the Senators later in the first, but Sillinger got his second straight game winner at 14:00 of the second when he crashed the net and deflected Mikael Pyyhtia's pass behind Merilainen.

Cleveland had to kill an extended 5-on-3 disadvantage to start the third, then held on from there until Pearson's empty-net goal with 2.2 seconds to go finished things off.

"Everybody played super hard," head coach Trent Vogelhuber said. "We didn't have any passengers, which you can't this time of year. That's what got it done. And the guy back in the goal helps, too."

Game 3: Cleveland 3, Belleville 2 (2OT)

Highlights | Stats

In a game of wild momentum swings and ups and downs, the Monsters leaned into what's gotten them through a successful season.

Their close nature and willingness to battle for one another.

A team that has played in plenty of close games this year stuck to the plan and got the winner 4:41 into the second overtime off the stick of Owen Sillinger to take a 3-2 victory at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Wednesday night -- and 2-1 lead in their best-of-five series with the B-Sens.

"That was the best part," head coach Trent Vogelhuber said of his team's ability to stick with it. "Just finding ways. I think that's what we've done all year. We've been in tight one-goal games all year and more often than not have found ways to win. They're comfortable in those situations. Now having a couple overtime winners just helps grow that confidence. I'm just happy for them."

Sillinger got the winner when he collected the rebound of a shot that went wide by David Jiricek and found goalie Mads Sogaard out of position, setting off a wild celebration in front of the 12,659 home fans that stuck around.

"It just happened to go in for me," Sillinger said. "Shot it in the open net and game over."

Cleveland built a 2-0 lead in the first 10 minutes on goals from Mikael Pyythia and Jiricek, but Belleville tied the score with a response goal late in the first and the equalizer early in the third. Donovan Sebrango's shot through a screen would be the last one to beat Jet Greaves, though, as the Monsters goalie stopped 39 shots.

Game 2: Cleveland 4, Belleville 3 (OT)

Highlights | Stats

If you made a list of unlikely overtime heroes, Cole "Cowboy" Clayton would likely be near the bottom.

The physical defenseman had five goals in 59 games during the regular season, but he was at the right place at the right time Friday night, pinching down from the right point and putting Tyler Angle's shot into the net early in OT to give Cleveland its first playoff win of the season.

The teams now return to Cleveland tied 1-1 in their best-of-five series.

Angle and Jake Gaudet each scored in the first for Cleveland as the teams were knotted at 2 after 20 minutes, then Josh Dunne scored for the second time in as many games in the middle period before former Ohio State forward Stephen Halliday tied things in the third for Belleville to set up OT. Angle, Gaudet and Justin Pearson (two assists) each had two-point games, while Jet Greaves finished with the win and 36 saves.

Game 1: Belleville 2, Cleveland 1

Highlights | Stats

Hitting the road to open the postseason, the Monsters dropped a tight one-goal decision to the B-Sens on Wednesday night to fall into a 1-0 hole in their best-of-five series.

Josh Dunne's power-play goal was the only tally for Cleveland, cutting Belleville’s lead to 2-1 in the second period, but the B-Sens made goals from Egor Sokolov and Angus Crookshank stand up. The Monsters had a 16-6 edge in third-period shots on goal and a 32-26 advantage overall, but they couldn’t find the tying marker in the third.

Trey Fix-Wolansky and Stanislav Svozil had assists on the Dunne goal, while netminder Jet Greaves made 24 saves.

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