Monarchs Make History, Advance to Calder Cup Final - AKA Adrian Kempe 's Big
Day Game Out.
The 18-year-old Swedish prospect drafted in the 2014 first round 29th overall had a great game, scoring the game-winner and receiving First Star honors.
Alright so maybe being a "Star" of the game isn't a big deal, but regardless, Kempe had a really good game. It seems as the playoffs have progressed and he's adjusted to the smaller North American ice, his game has improved. In the first two games, Stothers seemed a bit hesitant to play him. It may be due to his size since he hasn't quite filled out yet; after all, he did initially swap out Ryan Horvat for Paul Bissonnette and decided to put him on a line with Andrew Crescenzi (6'5) and Justin Auger (6'7) to be a very big, physically imposing and punishing line.
Even though Kempe is 6'2, the same height as "Biz Nasty," he's only 187 lbs, which could put him at a disadvantage when things get start to get chippy. Slowly, he seems to have gained his coach's trust as he's performed well in his limited minutes. In 12 games (he was scratched twice), he's only taken one penalty, and has five points (4-1-5).
Before the game started, there was some bad news. Michael Mersch, who'd gotten injured (but had returned to the bench) in Game 3 the night before, was being held out of the lineup for undisclosed reasons. Postgame, all Head Coach Mike Stothers would say is that he was "progressing."
Sean Backman took over Mersch's spot on the top line and Ryan Horvat drew into the lineup as the 12F.
Hartford went back to the veteran netminder Yann Danis in the hopes that he'd be a calming influence on his team.
The first minute and a half was all Wolf Pack as they jumped on the Monarchs early, determined to avoid a sweep. Kempe got Manchester's first shot on goal a little more than two minutes in. It nearly went in but Danis was able to squeeze the knees and make sure it stayed out.
But, three minutes in, Manchester continued their habit of scoring early and never looking back. Following a clean faceoff win, Kevin Gravel shot the puck well wide of the net. The puck took a weird bounce off the very lively end boards and Nic Dowd had an easy tap-in.
This time it wasn't even a bad rebound or a poor defensive breakdown that led to the goal; it was just kind of a flukey bounce.
At this point, it's a massive victory if a team can keep the #Monarchs off the score sheet for more than 7 minutes to start a game.— Andy Tonge (@AndyTonge1) May 27, 2015
As a reminder, Manchester is a perfect 11-0 when scoring first and 0-3 when getting scored on first in the postseason.
Most of the first period belonged to the Monarchs, even if the final boxscore made it seem like closer (shots were 11-6 in favor of the road team).
Ryan Haggerty tied the game for Hartford early in the second period. Oscar Lindberg had the puck behind the net, fired from the circle with Haggerty and Carl Klingberg parked in the blue paint fighting for a rebound. Haggerty and Klingberg simply outmuscled Jordan Weal and Colin Miller in the blue paint.
As seems to be the case lately, it didn't take long for the Monarchs to respond. David van der Gulik drew a power play, which went nowhere and gave up a shorthanded opportunity (so business as usual) but Kempe and Backman teamed up for a great goal shortly after it expired.
Andrew Bodnarchuk sent a long pass up the right wing boards to Backman at the team's opposing blue line and he maintained control of the puck, driving behind the net while Kempe crashed the crease. Danis made the initial save but couldn't control the rebound and Kempe buried it on his second try. Wolf Pack right winger Shawn O'Donnell failed to tie up his man (Kempe) and his team paid the price for it.
The rest of the period was pretty quiet with both teams getting some good chances, but neither converting. Manchester continued to outshoot Hartford with a total of 24 - 15 after 40 minutes (13-9 for the middle frame).
The third period was basically what you would expect: Monarchs being carefully opportunistic about their shot selection while trying to do whatever possible to suppress/limit Wolf Pack's shots to the outside and low percentage areas of the ice.
The opportunistic road team took advantage during a delayed penalty to the Pack. With the goalie pulled for the extra attacker, the Monarchs carefully didn't allow the Wolf Pack to gain control of the puck and Brian O'Neill walked into the high slot and scored off a nice feed from Derek Forbort. O'Neill's wrist shot beat Danis glove side.
It didn't go down as a power play goal, but it's probably just as well since no one would believe it if Manchester actually scored on their PP.
Also, he didn't credit for it, but that play was pretty much set up entirely by a heads up play from Nick Shore. He drop passed the puck out of the offensive zone and Vincent LoVerde gained control, who then passed it to Forbort for a zone entry (with control!), who then passed it to O'Neill.
With the exception of a penalty to Klingberg, the referees put their whistles away for the rest of the period in the true spirit of playoff hockey. (I sincerely doubt Manchester played a "clean" game, but they didn't get caught, or at least punished, for anything.)
Despite the power play, the Monarchs couldn't take advantage to further pad their lead. However, they didn't need it.
With about two minutes remaining in regulation and Danis pulled, Chris Mueller effectively took Miller out of the play by knocking him off the puck and then sitting on him, which created a 5v4 situation and a high percentage opportunity for Danny Kristo. It nearly worked but Jean-Francois Berube was able to smother the rebound before anyone could get to it.
The last minute was chaotic, but the Monarchs were excellent, blocking shots, denying zone entries, keeping the puck along the boards and overall, just making life really difficult in general for the Wolf Pack. Both teams only managed seven shots on goal apiece.
Notes and Statistics
Manchester Monarchs 15 Playoffs Individual Stats
|14||David Van der Gulik||LW||10||2||6||8||5||2||0||0||13||15.4|
- Even though he didn't make his way on to the score sheet, Jordan Weal had another excellent game. He took his first faceoff in the defensive zone and played a great all-around defensive game.
- For the first time in their 14 year history, the Manchester Monarchs are going to the Calder Cup Finals.
- Kevin Gravel quietly had a great series. He didn't stand out much, but that's what you would like to see in a big defensive defenseman like him.
- Also, Gravel made a lot of really smart, simple plays, especially on the PK that contributed to his overall excellence in this series.
- Berube came up huge a lot in this series, despite not facing a ton of shots or having a consistent workload throughout the games.
Per Andy Tonge from Mayor's Manor,
With the sweep, the Monarchs have ensured a few days of rest, which will also allow them to sit and watch as the Grand Rapids Griffin and Utica Comets battle it out for the Western Conference title.
Of the two teams, Utica is likely the easier matchup, as Grand Rapids may be the only team in the league capable of scoring goal-for-goal with the Monarchs. Teeny Pulkkinen has done nothing short of destroy the AHL after being sent down by Detroit, and avoiding a dance with him would be in the best interest Manchester.
On top of the matchup, Utica makes for easier travel, as the team could bus up to New York instead of having to fly to Michigan. That flight would likely also affect the schedule of a series with the Griffins, as the AHL being a lower budget league does not allow for most teams to fly to their opponents unless absolutely necessary. Thus, a matchup with Grand Rapids would most likely see a 2-3-2 format for home and away games, instead of the traditional 2-2-1-1-1.
Teemu Pulkkinen is absolutely terrifying and has 14 goals in 12 games. Add to that highly touted center prospect Dylan Larkin along with a high team shooting percentage (an average of 3.5 goals per 28.33 shots) and the Calder Cup could return to Michigan (they were champions in 2012-13).
They also follow the Detroit system, which is pretty famous for having NHL ready prospects continue to play in a developmental league long after they could potentially leave.
Utica would be a challenge in and of itself as they were the top team in terms of shot suppression and generation for much of the regular season. They fell off a little bit towards the end as the Monarchs eventually overtook the number one spot, but they're pretty good.
Jacob Markstrom was also the second best goalie (edged out by Matthew Murray) in the regular season in terms of sv%. He is the best netminder of all teams remaining with a .930 sv% and 1.91 GAA.
Of course, no matter who makes it out of the west, they will obviously be a very good team that will give Manchester a run for its money.