MANCHESTER, N.H. — Jonathan Bernier led the way as the Manchester Monarchs completed a four-game sweep of the Portland Pirates on Tuesday night in their AHL Atlantic Division playoff series.

Bernier stopped 44 shots to lead the Monarchs to a 7-2 win before a crowd of 2,136 at Verizon Wireless Arena.

Manchester advanced to the best-of-seven division finals to play the winner of the series between Lowell and Worcester.

“We had a pretty good tempo early, but we have had a tough time cracking that egg during the last four games,” Pirates Coach Kevin Dineen said. “When you have somebody standing that tall in net, he’s such a big part of their team.”

In the four playoff games against the Pirates, Bernier, a first-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in the 2006 draft, stopped 125 of 130 shots, a phenomenal .952 save percentage.

“Against a team that has as much firepower as Portland and a team that really comes at you, tonight typified how he’s played for us all year,” Manchester Coach Mark Morris said. “He’s been our eraser.”

Bernier made 22 of his saves during a scoreless first period, 13 during two Portland power plays.
“Honestly, with a young team like this, there’s going to be breakdowns, there’s going to be turnovers, and his confidence level is sky-high right now,” Morris said.

Todd Ford, making his first appearance in the Portland goal since rejoining the team from the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays a week ago, also had his moments during the first period. Five of his nine saves came during a Manchester power play, including three stops during a 57-second span when the Monarchs skated with a two-man advantage.

The Monarchs, making their third playoff appearance in four seasons under Morris, grabbed the momentum when Trevor Lewis stuck the puck inside the left post 31 seconds into the second period.

“The starts to games, the starts to periods have been an issue for us all series,” Dineen said. “It’s something we’re all aware of, and we got caught in one at the beginning of the second period that obviously sent the game in the wrong direction.
“Those type of things can’t happen if you want playoff success.”

Manchester, which won only three of 10 games against Portland during the regular season, added three goals over the next 15 minutes to move into a 4-0 lead.

Lewis struck again at 12:10. Then Bud Holloway, who had the winning goal in each of the first three games of the series, and Kevin Westgarth added goals before Nathan Gerbe scored a power-play goal with 1:13 left in the period while the Pirates skated with a two-man advantage.

Mark Mancari jammed the puck past Bernier 12:10 into the third period to make it 4-2, but center Oscar Moller and defensemen Andrew Campbell and Joe Piskula scored during the final three minutes.

“They were a better hockey team in every area of the game, and that is disappointing to us as a group,” Dineen said.

NOTES: The Pirates played without Cody McCormick, a 27-year-old center who has played parts of five seasons in the NHL. He was called up to Buffalo to play in the Stanley Cup series against Boston after veteran forward Matt Ellis suffered a broken nose against the Bruins Monday night. …
Rookie right wing Jacob Lagace, signed by the Pirates after finishing his fourth junior season with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, played in his first game since joining the team 10 days ago.

Staff Writer Paul Betit can be contacted at 791-6424 or at: [email protected]