Monsters Big Weekend Begins in Hamilton

In six meetings this season, the Lake Erie Monsters (27-25-2-3) have handled tonight's opponent- the Hamilton Bulldogs (25-26-1-4)- better than just about any other team. The Monsters are 5-1-0-0 against the Bulldogs this season. Hamilton, who currently sits at the bottom of the five-team North Division, is depleted by call-ups to the parent Montreal Canadiens and the Monsters have to approach this evening's game as a must-win. What's more? It's the start of another three-games-in-three-nights stretch, and the Monsters traditionally fare best in the first games of stretches like this. Furthermore, the Monsters enter the day four points back of the Peoria Rivermen, who currently own the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. The Monsters have one game in hand on Peoria.

This marks the second consecutive week in which the Monsters are scheduled to play a three-in-three. Last week, the Monsters were 1-1-0-1 over three games against Hershey, Grand Rapids, and Rochester. Unlike last week's version, the Monsters begin this week's stretch with a road game, and finish with a pair of home contests against the Midwest Division-leading Charlotte Checkers. The Monsters are 1-1-2-0 in the opening game of three-in-threes, and are a combined 2-5-0-1 in the second and third games this season. Tonight begins their fifth of six such stretches.

Tonight's game is the final game of the regular season for the Monsters at Hamilton's Copps Coliseum. Not since the first meeting of the season between the two teams- November 5 in Hamilton- have the Bulldogs managed a victory over the Monsters; it was a 1-0 win for Hamilton. The Monsters have reeled off five-straight two-point efforts, with the most recent being a 3-1 victory at Quicken Loans Arena on January 28. After tonight, the teams play one more time: the second-to-last game of the regular season at Quicken Loans Arena.

Last time out, the Monsters fell to division rival and fellow playoff contender Rochester by a 4-3 score in a 15-round shootout. Evan Brophey opened the scoring in the game, giving him a pair of goals and six points over his last seven games. He leads the monsters with 15 goals and 34 points on the year, and will need to continue to carry a heavy offensive load down the stretch. Brad Malone is showing great progress in finding open teammates as his productive rookie season continues; he has assists in four of his last five games. Eric Hunter notched his first goal since he scored in back-to-back contests on October 28 and 30, and David van der Gulik tallied an assist in his return to the Monsters lineup. He hadn't played a game for the Monsters since December 10 due to a 25-game stint with the NHL's Colorado Avalanche.

Hamilton is moving along without some of its top performers; Aaron Palushaj, who has averaged a point per game in 31 games for Hamilton, and newly acquired Blake Geoffrion, both forwards, are currently on recall to the Montreal Canadiens. Rookie sensation Louis LeBlanc is back with Hamilton, and had an assist in his last game. LeBlanc is tied for the Bulldogs lead this season against the Monsters, with three points in four meetings against Lake Erie this season. The Bulldogs are coming off back-to-back losses- both to the Toronto Marlies- as they try to stay afloat in the Western Conference playoff race.

The Monsters and Bulldogs will get started at 7:30 PM, with all the action being carried live on ESPN 850 WKNR.

The Monsters return home for a pair of games against the Charlotte Checkers, Saturday at 7:30 PM. and Sunday at 3:00 PM. The two games are Charlotte's only scheduled regular season visits to Quicken Loans Arena.

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