It was a wild game with blown leads from both teams, a combined 11 goals and a very physical, chippy affair.
On Thursday night, it was Michael "En Fuego" Mersch who opened the scoring for Manchester. On Saturday, it was Jonathan Quick 's brother-in-law, Sean Backman .
After exchanging a few chances back and forth, Nic Dowd hit the post before Backman gathered the rebound and blasted a shot past Yann Danis.
The Monarchs remain a perfect 7-0 when scoring first (despite actually blowing the lead in this game).
Less than three minutes later, Jordan Weal stole a pass from Hartford and started a rush out of his own zone. He passed it to Brian O'Neill who deked around his defender and put a shot on goal. Danis couldn't cover the puck and Michael Mersch was where he usually is: in the crease. Mersch won the battle in the blue paint and doubled Manchester's lead.
Monarchs had a power play in the middle of the first but shockingly couldn't convert and even gave up a Grade A shorthanded chance, forcing a big save out of J.F. Berube. They held the Wolf Pack to just three shots on goal. That is not a typo.
The second period was a little rough for both teams. Hartford scored three goals before Manchester stormed back with three goals of their own.
Oscar Lindberg scored the first goal for the Wolf Pack, beating Berube from the slot. It was a simple one-on-one shot from the low slow that you feel like he probably should have. It was their second shot on goal of the period.
A costly turnover led to a game-tying-goal a few minutes as Carl Klingberg received a gorgeous pass while crashing the net and flipped the puck over Berube's shoulder. It was just a great play by the Wolf Pack.
Joey Crabb scored the go-ahead goal on the PP for Hartford while Jordan Weal was in the box for holding the stick. It was kind of a weird penalty because on the replay, Weal had the puck and got knocked down. He did not appear to be holding the stick from what I can tell, though it's certainly possible when he fell down or perhaps when he got up.
Lindberg deflected Chris Bourque's shot but hit the post. The puck went straight up in the air then fell down right in front of Crabb. I don't know if it hit him or if he shoveled it into the net since that angle wasn't shown on the broadcast.
Jeff Schultz got very upset and got involved in a scrum in the crease, which is rather unusual for him. It was just kind of an interesting thing that occurred.
The frustrating thing is that to this point, the Monarchs had been extremely dominant and Dannis hadn't been very good. They'd peppered Hartford's goalie and he appeared to be having trouble with his rebounds, but they hadn't been able to beat him a third time before the Wolf Pack went ahead. And aside from the first goal allowed, Berube hadn't been playing poorly. The tying and go-ahead goals weren't his fault.
Once cooler heads prevailed, the game resumed. But 20 seconds later, Ryan Haggerty was called for roughing so the Monarchs went to the power play. For a change, it wasn't a super embarrassing man advantage but the Wolf Pack were able to successfully kill it.
Mersch drew a penalty by being difficult to move down low near the goal and then scored on the ensuing PP. After some nice puck movement around the offensive zone, Colin Miller got the puck to Weal who put it on net for Mersch to poke away until he could get the rebound.
And of course because playing at 5v5 is overrated, Schultz took a penalty 11 seconds after his team just tied the game. Right after Manchester killed the elbowing minor, Nick Shore out raced Mat Bodie to a loose puck in the offensive zone and then out muscled him, pulling off a Jaromir Jagr ass-like move, to set up O'Neill for the eventual game-winning-goal.
Sean Backman deflected Miller's shot 41 seconds later to add a little insurance before the period expired. Yes, there were six goals scored in the second period, two in the final minute. Nuts, right?
The third period was a little quieter -- but not by much.
Mackenzie Skapski replaced Danis for the final 20 minutes. If that name sounds kinda familiar, he got a brief call-up for a few games to backup Cam Talbot while Henrik Lundqvist was on injured reserve recovering from a sprained blood vessel back in February.
Nic Dowd tipped a Backman shot from the blue line seven minutes into the third period. I mean, that's cool and all but he totally robbed Backman of a hat trick.
Despite it being a total blowout, the Monarchs continued to pour the pressure on and limit shots against. I have no idea how many shots they blocked, but it was a lot.
Mersch got his hat trick goal with less than six minutes to go in regulation. Brian O'Neill had just hit the cross bar and the rebound squirted out into the corner. O'Neill followed up and won the battle along the boards, getting the puck to a waiting Mersch at the bottom of the right wing circle, who just blasted it past Skapski.
Paul Bissonnette and Dylan McIlrath immediately started to dance after Mersch's goal. Those two had been chirping at each other all night long and Biz had turned down an invitation to go earlier in the game so it was only a matter of time.
With a little more than three minutes remaining in regulation, Klingberg beat Berube from the right wing circle to cut Manchester's lead to three. It was a really good shot, as the puck hit the cross bar and deflected in. I'm not really sure there was much Berube could do about it.
Adrian Kempe, who hadn't seen much ice time due to a lot of special teams work and the nature of the game, tried to answer back but his drive went wide.
The game ended without much of a threat from either team to score. There was a minor scrum when the horn sounded, in which Kempe was involved, but beyond that, nothing to write home about.
Notes and Statistics
Manchester Monarchs 15 Playoffs Individual Stats
|14||David Van der Gulik||LW||8||2||5||7||5||2||0||0||11||18.2|
- With his hat trick, Mersch has now passed Weal for the goal scoring lead and has tied him in points overall.
- Both are tied with Teemu Pulkkinen of the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit Red Wings) for the league lead; however, Pulkkinen has three and four more goals than Mersch and Weal, respectively.
- The Monarchs' broadcast compared Dowd to Trevor Lewis in terms of playing style; that seems about appropriate - he has size and speed, but is probably no more than a depth center at the NHL level. I don't know about his hands yet, hopefully they're better and less stoney.
- Lindberg and Klingberg have been terrorizing the Monarchs.
- Hartford's Swedes combined for seven points (4-3-7) in two games.
- Bourque has also been a pain, as he has three points (all assists) in two games vs Manchester.
- I think Kempe is being sheltered due to the extreme physical nature of this series. Manchester's radio color guy spoke to Kempe, who said guys are trying to get him off his game (although they were doing that a lot last round). I'm not sure if it's because he's 18 or because he's new to the North American pro game, but he isn't receiving a ton of ice time right now.
- However, Kempe has looked good in the limited minutes he is getting. His hands are still questionable but it's the playoffs and things are a little different than the regular season.
- The Monarchs continue to be an excellent shot suppression team. They managed to hold a high flying Wolf Pack team to just 18 shots on goal -- although part of that may be due to the fact that Hartford doesn't shoot a lot, but they can score a lot.
- Aside from one goal, Berube was fine; there really wasn't much he could do on the other three goals.
- Shore looked really good in this game. He had the primary assist on O'Neill's goal and all around had one of his best games in a while, at least from a defensive standpoint. His defensive work is trusted by the coaches as he's out there to help protect leads and will start in the d-zone more than anyone else, especially for a critical faceoff. If he heats up offensively, that can only be a good thing for Manchester.
- Hartford's goalie, Danis, was awful in this game. He seemed like he was fighting the puck all night, he gave up a lot of long rebounds and was chased after two periods.
Manchester Monarchs 15 Playoffs Schedule
* If necessary
The series will switch to a 2-2-1-1-1 format similar to the NHL now instead of the 2-3-2 format of the previous round. The next two games will be tonight (Tuesday) and tomorrow (Wednesday) before shifting back to Manchester on Saturday if necessary.
Manchester has not won a Game 3 on the road and are hoping Mersch, Weal and company can keep their hot scoring streaks alive.
The toughest game to win is always the fourth one, but winning the third one is no picnic either, as the Monarchs have discovered. They didn't bounce back in the first round versus Portland (Arizona Coyotes' affiliate), but they did have an excellent Game 4 on the road against the Wilkes Barre/Scranton Penguinas (Pittsburgh Penguins' farm team).
They have had some adversity and faced some blown leads. The farther you go, the tougher the competition naturally. There is a very good team on the other side trying to win a hockey game as much as they are so how Stothers and the coaching staff has kept them grounded, especially when the other team battles back, speaks volumes.
During the broadcast, they interviewed one of the assistant coaches and he said it was quiet on the bench (after Hartford went up 3-2 in the second period), but it was a quiet confidence. Then Manchester went and tallied three goals like they knew they could to not only get back in the game, but to win it as well.
Hartford's most dangerous players so far have been Oscar Lindberg, Carl Klingberg and Chris Bourque, though they're showing that they have as much depth scoring and talent as Manchester. Lindberg and Klingberg have two goals apiece while Bourque had two primary assists in Game 1 and a secondary assist (though he really was the one to set up Crabb's goal) in Game 2.
In the regular season, Manchester went 1-0-1 in Hartford, winning in overtime early in the year then losing in a shootout to Danis (who'd been extremely hot at that time).
Monarchs are going to need to do a good job of limiting Bourque, Lindberg and Klingberg in order to win. Tonight, Manchester's best players look to stay hot and take a commanding 3-0 lead in the series.
Some Light Reading
Weal leading Monarchs towards ultimate goal The Monarchs are leaning heavily on the 23-year-old B.C. native and he's responded well for them.
Monarchs Bring Native Son To Face Wolf Pack In Game 3 A write-up on Sean Backman, a Greenwich, CT native, and how his line has been producing.
New Hampshire Union Leader
Monarchs' big guns on target A preview of what's to come tonight.