The Manchester Monarchs got on the board first (and last) thanks to Michael Mersch doing what he does best -- crashing the net.
It was a tight game between the Monarchs and the Hartford Wolf Pack (New York Rangers), but in this goalie duel, Jean-Francois Berube came out on top. More on him later, though.
Mersch is very much a prototypical Los Angeles Kings winger with a big body who likes to park himself in the blue paint to set screens, tip pucks or jump on any rebounds that may provide a scoring opportunity.
Despite having eight days off between games, the Manchester came out flying, eager to prove that they belong in the Eastern Conference Final. Mersch was credited with the opening goal 35 seconds in, though the Monarchs' radio PXP announcer suggested that perhaps Danis knocked the puck into his own net with his glove. Oops.
About halfway through the period, Nick Shore 's line turned the puck over inside their own zone and Oscar Lindberg was only too happy to accept their gift. Standing alone in front of the net, he received a slick pass from Chris Bourque and beat Berube on the backhand. There was so little time for Berube to react, it's not really a bad goal to give up.
The Monarchs seemed a bit shaky after giving up the tying goal but managed to hold the Wolf Pack at bay.
In the second period, Hartford was outshooting Manchester 17-15 when Nic Dowd had an opportunity on a four-on-one just over halfway into the period. Instead of passing or shooting for a rebound, he simply sniped the puck top shelf over Danis's glove. It was quite a lovely shot.
Shortly after killing off an interference penalty to Vincent LoVerde, Mersche scored again. There was a huge scrum in front of Danis, who had gone down and two Hartford skaters had fallen over. Mersch lost his balance, played the puck from his knees and somehow was able to shoot around guys in the crease to score an incredibly important insurance goal.
Sean Backman came close to adding to the lead but hit the post. A few minutes later, after Hartford killed off a penalty, Mat Bodie scored to bring Hartford within one. It was probably one that Berube would like back as it seemed to somehow sneak past him just inside the post.
But that was as close as they would get. Berube made some of his best saves in the final 60 seconds when Hartford had the extra attacker and was pressuring Manchester for the equalizer. He made a fantastic glove save through traffic with eight seconds left in regulation immediately followed by a critical blocker right off the draw with four seconds left and the most important one yet came again off a faceoff loss with 1.1 remaining in regulation.
It was a close call, but Berube stood tall and kept the Monarchs alive to take a 1-0 series lead.
Manchester was whistled for three penalties and killed off all three. They were awarded only two power plays and both were pretty bad. They actually gave up a shorthanded chance on their first PP and Berube was forced to freeze the puck since he lost track of it.
Hartford has a pretty aggressive PK so it's easy to see why they have had more success on their kills than Manchester so far.
The series will resume on Saturday night at 7 p.m. E.T. before shifting to Hartford, Connecticut on Tuesday, May 26 for a three game series.
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Weal remains Manchester's leading scorer and has temporarily taken the lead over Teemu Pulkkinen, whose team (Grand Rapids Griffins) was resting on Thursday.
With his first goal, Mersch moved into sole possession of rookie points leader in the postseason, beating out Tyler Bertuzzi among those still playing.
Manchester Monarchs 15 Playoffs Schedule