The goal for all 30 AHL teams coming into this year is simple – to win the Calder Cup. The league’s equivalent of the Stanley Cup, the trophy requires a grueling, several month battle to take home. In their final season in the league, the Manchester Monarchs are now one win away from fighting for the trophy, as their 5-3 victory gave them a 3-0 series lead over the Hartford Wolf Pack.
As they have done all post-season, the team jumped out to an early lead, opening the scoring just over five minutes after the puck drop. When Andrew Bodnarchuk’s point shot was stopped by goalie Mackenzie Skapski, a rebound bounced out to the slot, where Nick Shore sat patiently, burying the loose puck.
Later in the period, Hartford would draw even at one. With the man advantage, a shot from high in the left offensive circle appeared to beat JF Berube cleanly.
The Monarchs would regain the lead with under a minute left on the clock, as one of hockey’s hottest lines would strike once again. On the right side of the ice, Jordan Weal faked a shot before opting to send a cross-ice pass to Brian O’Neill, who wristed the puck into a wide open net as Skapski dove to his right.
In the second period, the Monarchs would push the score to 3-1. Coming in on an odd-man rush, Zach O’Brien saw that the passing lane was taken away from him, so the forward threw a shot on net. Shore followed up by putting the rebound towards the net as well, allowing Adrian Kempe to jump on the loose puck and push it over the goal line.
During the final 20 minutes of play, the two teams would go back-and-forth scoring until the final buzzer sounded.
Sean Backman started off by scoring his team’s fourth goal of the game. Flying down the left wing, Backman slightly strided towards the middle of the ice, where he released a howitzer of a slap-shot top shelf. The play was one we’ve seen numerous times from the veteran forward, but never has he placed a shot better than he did on Tuesday night.
Five minutes later, the Wolf Pack would once again make it a two goal game. After dishing the puck to Mat Bodie at the center of the point, Danny Kristo got the puck back in the right offensive circle and threw a shot on net, which squeaked through Berube and across the line. The goal was the teams second power play goal of the night.
A short while later, O’Brien got back on the score sheet with a goal of his own. Collecting a puck turned over in the Hartford zone, the forward took a few strides towards the slot before releasing a hard slap shot to the upper portion of the net, pushing the game to a 5-2 score.
With the game completely out of reach, the Wolf Pack added their third goal of the night with 0.1 seconds left on the clock, as Joey Crabb beat Berube before the buzzer.
After a pointless puck drop killed the little amount of time left on the clock, the game was over and the Monarchs won 5-3.
It still is concerning to see Berube allow some of the goals he has let in, as pucks have simply found a way to squeeze through the Francophone and into the back of the net. Nevertheless, he is still playing more than well enough to help his team win. Both of the first two goals came when his team was short handed, and the final one was a bit of a fluke when the game was nearly over.
Defensive-defenseman don’t often get talked about by media, but they have a tremendous impact on every game. Captain Vincent LoVerde has quietly played outstanding hockey on the back end. A lot of his genius is subtle and not noticed by the untrained eye. Other times, he can be seen making an intelligent pinch at his own blueline to deny a zone entry while his team is on the penalty kill. The former Miami of Ohio player has continued to find a way to impact the outcomes of games throughout this playoff run.
On the other end of the spectrum, Colin Miller hasn’t had nearly the impact seen during the regular season. Now, it isn’t to say Miller has played poorly, but he simply has been a step below the play exhibited during the 70 games he played before the playoffs started.
Likewise, Justin Auger has not only seen his play drop, but he has slid down the lines, now on the fourth line, and even being a healthy scratch for some games.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a line playing better hockey than the combo of Michael Mersch, Weal, and O’Neill. Sitting 1st, 3rd, and 5th in points during the playoffs, the trio have been absolutely lethal. After the first two rounds were all about the Jordan Weal show, Michael Mersch seems to have stepped to the forefront of that group, as he scored a combined five goals in the first two games of this series.
The Monarchs have a chance to sweep the Wolf Pack on Wednesday, as the teams meet for a rematch 24 hours after the start of Game 3.
Line combinations and defensive pairings for Game 3 were as follows:
Michael Mersch – Jordan Weal – Brian O’Neill
Adrian Kempe – Nick Shore – Zach O’Brien
David Van der Gulik – Nic Dowd – Sean Backman
Paul Bissonnette – Andrew Crescenzi – Justin Auger
Andrew Bodnarchuk – Vincent LoVerde
Jeff Schultz – Colin Miller
Derek Forbort – Kevin Gravel
MORE GAME 3 COVERAGE:
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