LOS ANGELES -
The Kings' American Hockey League affiliate Manchester Monarchs are set for postseason play, tabbed to take on the Portland Pirates in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals beginning Thursday night at the Verizon Wireless Center in New Hampshire's capital city.
The Monarchs finished the season with a 50-17-6 record, good for 109 points in the standings - the best in the AHL. Manchester was awarded the Frank Mathers Trophy, which is given to the team that boasts the best record in the Eastern Conference.
Manchester heads into the playoffs with a potent offense; four players recorded 20 goals or more, seven players registered 40 points or higher. Forward Brian O'Neill took home the Les Cunningham Award, which is given to the MVP of the regular season. O'Neill finished the campaign with 80 points (22G, 58A). O'Neill, who went undrafted, was signed as a free agent by the Kings following his senior season at Yale University in March of 2012. O'Neill is the first ever Monarch to win the AHL regular season MVP award, and is just the second player ever in the organization to lead the league in points since Pavel Rosa did so in 2003-'04 with 88.
Portland, the Monarchs' first-round opponent and the Arizona Coyotes' affiliate, finished eighth in the Eastern Conference (38-29-7, 97PTS). In 12 meetings with the Pirates this season, the Monarchs finished with a 9-2-0-1 mark. The two clubs are less than 100 miles from one another; here's how their best-of-five first round series has been planned:
EASTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS - SERIES "A"
MANCHESTER (1) - VS - PORTLAND (8)
GAME 1 - Thursday, April 23 - AT MANCHESTER, 7:00PM
GAME 2 - Saturday, April 25 - AT MANCHESTER, 7:00PM
GAME 3 - Sunday, April 26 - AT PORTLAND, 5:00PM
*GAME 4 - Thursday, April 30 - AT PORTLAND, 7:00PM
*GAME 5 - Saturday, May 2 - AT MANCHESTER, 7:00PM
BEHIND THE BENCH
Mike Stothers stepped in to fill Manchester's head coaching role after Mark Morris stepped away after six years at the helm of the Monarchs' bench. In leading his club to a league-best 38-29-7 record, Stothers was given the Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL's outstanding coach. If the Monarchs can knock off the Pirates in the first round, Strothers will be the only coach other than Mark Morris to lead Manchester to a playoff series win in his first season behind the bench.
SNAP THE SKID
The Monarchs not have won a playoff series since they defeated the Worcester Sharks in the 2010 Division Finals. Since then, Manchester has lost their previous five playoff series', being eliminated in the first round in each of the previous four seasons; they hold a 8-17 record in that time.
Forwards Brian O'Neill and Jordan Weal own two of the top three scoring spots in the AHL. O'Neill's 80 points (22G, 58A) is good for best in the league, while Weal's 69 points (20G, 49A) are good for third. Defenseman Colin Miller finished the season second in the league in scoring for defensemen with 52 points (19G, 33A).
THE WEAL DEAL
Experience pays huge dividends come the postseason, and the Monarchs will have the core of the same roster that faltered in the first round to the Norfolk Admirals last season back for another shot at the Calder Cup. 14 of the 22 players are from last year's postseason will dress for the Monarchs in their opening round series. Forward Adrian Kempe, the Kings' first-round draft pick in 2014, will join Manchester for the postseason. Kempe played with the Monarchs in their final three regular season games.
ARRRRRRE YOU READY?
Having played each other 12 times over the course of the regular season, these two clubs are no strangers to one another. Manchester's final regular season game against Portland came on April 17, a 3-2 Monarchs win; goaltender Patrik Bartosak made a career-high 42 saves in the win. Highlights are below:
GRANITE STATE FINALE
With the Monarchs and the ECHL's Ontario Reign set to swap rosters and league rights for the 2015-'16 season, this will be the final chance for Manchester to bring a Calder Cup Championship to the Verizon Wireless Arena - where they've played since their inception into the AHL prior to the 2001-'02 campaign. The Monarchs have qualified for the postseason 12 of their 13 years playing in Manchester; they have reached the Eastern Conference Finals twice.
MONARCHS LINKS ON LAKINGS.COMDEREK FORBORT: STICKING TO THE PLAN (OCTOBER 22)
SHORE BRINGS QUIET CONFIDENCE UP THE MIDDLE (NOVEMBER 19)
ADRIAN KEMPE: COMING TO NORTH AMERICA, EVENTUALLY (FEBRUARY 25)
COLLIN MILLER: SHOOTING TO JOIN THE KINGS' BLUE LINE (APRIL 15)
BRIAN O'NEILL NAMED AHL MVP (APRIL 17)