On the biggest stages, you need your best players to be your best players. For example, it is often talked about how goalies must be the best penalty killers in any given game. Come playoff time, stars need to be stars. Every hope and expectation for Jordan Weal during the 2015 AHL playoffs has been exceeded so far, as the Monarchs flashy forward has been nothing short of dominant for his team, as they beat the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 5-2 to take a 2-0 series lead.
As has been the case for most of the playoffs, the Monarchs were the first team to find the scoreboard. Halfway through the first, Brian O’Neill potted his fifth of the postseason. Working in the left offensive corner, Michael Mersch was able to come away with the puck from two defending Penguins, dishing a short backhand pass to O’Neill, who broke to the net and scored off the far post.
In the second period, a flurry of goals came from both sides. Conor Sheary started the spree off by tying the contest at 1 with a powerplay goal. From high along the left boards, Shearyu dished off to Andrew Ebbett on the goal line, who eventually gave it back to Sheary. The forward’s shot hit off the post and bounced off of the back of JF Berube and into the net.
Exactly 10 seconds later, the Monarchs regained their lead. Justin Auger drove down the right boards, cut towards the net, and deked from forehand, to backhand, before scoring forehand to complete a terrific move.
The Monarchs’ 2-1 lead was short lived, as 14 seconds later, the game was knotted up at 2. When two Penguins entered in on a two-on-one rush, Tom Kuhnhackl dished across the ice to Dominik Uher, who one-timed the pass into the back of the net.
Minutes before the period ended, Weal got his first goal of the game, putting his team ahead 3-2. Skating towards the right point, O’Neill curled with the puck and saw Weal alone, feeding him with a cross-ice pass. The enigmatic center sniped the puck top shelf, putting himself in the lead for postseason goals on the team with six.
Early in the third period, Weal added another one, extending the Monarchs lead to two. When a Colin Miller point shot was blocked in front, Mersch passed the puck to his center, who scored into an empty net, as goalie Matt Murray was unable to get over in time.
Late in regulation, O’Neill sealed the deal by adding an empty netter. After a pass intended for Nick Shore hopped over the center’s stick, O’Neill took the puck, gained the red line, and shot into the yawning cage. Shortly after, the final buzzer sound, as the Monarchs won 5-2.
Though still not playing at the highest level he’s played at, Berube played much better on Thursday. The highlight of his game was undoubtedly a save he made in the second period, where he assuredly robbed a Penguins goal. The netminder slid from right to left and got his glove hand on a shot destined to find twine. While Berube is not a guy to necessarily steal games for his team, he can still play better hockey than what he has shown. Thursday was a good step to regaining the form that people have come to expect of him.
There is no other word to describe Weal’s play than dominant. He has controlled the pace of play on every shift this postseason, while showing his ability to do simply whatever he wants offensively. While it would have already been easy to argue his place on an NHL roster during this past season, the youngster is almost guaranteed to find himself on an opening day NHL roster, whether it be with the Los Angeles Kings or another team.
Once again, the Monarchs were able to solve the Matt Murray puzzle. One of the more troubling things about the Penguins’ goalie’s game has been his rebound control, which was superb when he shut out the Monarchs in Manchester earlier in the year. Through the first two games, he has allowed plenty of second chances. What was once thought of to be a very defensive series has so far been a high-scoring affair, as neither netminder has found their game to date.
With two games in Manchester in the books, the series now shifts to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. The teams will play games on Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, if necessary, in the Penguins home stadium. Due to the nature of the AHL, the schedule makes it possible that the Monarchs could return home trailing in the series if they cannot take one or two on the road – something that served as a common theme when speaking with players following the game.
LINKS TO FULL POSTGAME QUOTES:
Line combinations and defensive pairings for Game 2 were as follows:
Michael Mersch – Jordan Weal – Brian O’Neill
Adrian Kempe – Nick Shore – Sean Backman
David Van der Gulik – Nic Dowd – Zach O’Brien
Ryan Horvat – Andrew Crescenzi – Justin Auger
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
Derek Forbort – Kevin Gravel
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