It was to be expected, really. The Comets are a good team and they won the west for a reason. Their adjustments nearly paid off as they heavily targeted the Monarchs' top line and made life difficult for them, breaking up passes and blocking shots when they could.
But unlike the Comets, the Monarchs are a deep team and that left room for Zach O'Brien and Nic Dowd to shine in this game.
While Jordan Weal and Brian O'Neill struggled to find room and stay disciplined, O'Brien happily took advantage of lesser attention shown to him and was all over the place -- in a good way.
Zach O'Brien, having himself a game.— Jon Rosen (@lakingsinsider) June 7, 2015
O'Brien scored late in the first period on the power play, which had been struggling a bit in recent games. Sean Backman sent a beautiful cross-ice feed to O'Brien who was playing the role of Michael Mersch in the crease and redirected the puck up high over Jacob Markstrom 's shoulder.
It was probably one of Manchester's few good chances of the period.
Utica came out flying to start the game. Even though Manchester had the first couple of shots on goal, it was all Utica until about the midway point of the period. After that, it seemed like a more even period, though Rhys Jessop from Canucks Army calculated the chances to be more heavily in favor of the Comets.
Comets controlled the puck much better at ES that period, out-attempting Manchester 19-10 at ES. Monarchs held an 11-1 edge on special teams— Rhys Jessop (@Thats_Offside) June 7, 2015
Both teams had four minutes of power play time each in the first, including over a minute of 4v3 PP time for Utica.
Special teams is an area where Manchester has struggled their last several games but on Sunday, they were actually pretty good and for the most part, their power play efforts were stoned by a hot goalie.
Early in the second period, Colin Miller turned the puck over just inside his own blue line and Nicklas Jensen intercepted his clearing pass/attempt. Jensen took a few strides forward to the top of the circle and sent a wrister labeled for the top corner, glove side. If J.F. Berube makes the save, it's absolute highway robbery. But since he didn't, it was just a really good shot.
Immediately following the goal, Berube made a fantastic save on Brendan Gaunce.
The second period belonged to Utica. They outshot Manchester 13-12 in the period and out-attempted them
Another great period for the Comets at ES. Held the Monarchs to just 6 attempts and one chance, while firing 16 attempts of their own.— Rhys Jessop (@Thats_Offside) June 7, 2015
There's a little bit of discrepancy between the AHL scorers and what Jessop counted but their even-strength play was hampered by poor discipline and a lot of stoppages. There were scrums after almost every whistle as Comets players tried to box Monarchs players out and keep them away from their goaltender and then at the other end, Comets players were running Berube a lot and Monarchs players didn't take too kindly to that for some reason.
Manchester was dangerous on a brief power play that they had towards the end of the period. If it were a little longer, there's a good chance it would've scored.
Nick Shore did have a beautiful shorthanded breakaway, and I don't know if he whiffed or what, but his long shot either missed wide or was an easy, routine save for Markstrom.
Special teams play is favouring the Monarchs, who look deadly on the PP. Monarchs are +17/-0 for PP attempts, while Utica is just +7/-3— Rhys Jessop (@Thats_Offside) June 7, 2015
While the first period was mostly even and the second period was mostly Utica, the third period was almost entirely Manchester.
The Mersch-Weal-O'Neill line finally was able to make some adjustments in their game and were pretty dangerous most of the period, especially towards the end.
Had it not been for Markstrom, the game could've very easily gotten out of hand, especially with all the pressure the Monarchs had in the offensive zone. He got them to OT and helped them survive 1:59 of a power play after Peter Andersson flipped the puck over the glass just as time was expiring in regulation.
On the game-winning goal, Dowd raced down the boards and won a battle behind the net, threw the puck at Markstrom, picked up his own rebound and scored. It was an incredible individual effort to beat Cory Conacher and Andersson, who got caught puck watching.
Monarchs really came on in the 3rd period, out-chancing the Comets 7-2. ES chances are 13-10 Utica. AS chances are 16-13 Monarchs.— Rhys Jessop (@Thats_Offside) June 7, 2015
Much better game for the Comets, but Manchester completely took over with 10 min to go in the 3rd. Couldn't keep up from that point on.— Rhys Jessop (@Thats_Offside) June 8, 2015
The series will shift back to Utica now and it will be interesting to see how both teams respond to the new environment.
Manchester Monarchs 15 Playoffs Schedule
The AHL decided to go with a 2-3-2 format for the Calder Cup Final while Utica and Grand Rapids were still playing for title of Best in the West so the series will be in New York for at least the next two games.
The Monarchs have established themselves as a good road team ever since their poor outings in Portland in the first round. It's natural to expect some push back from a team that's in their home building so it'll be really interesting to see how both Utica and Manchester make changes to their games.