Monarchs need OT to take game 1, 3-2
MANCHESTER, NH – The two best teams in the AHL all season long locked horns for the first time all season up in Manchester, NH for Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals in front of 8,155 fans at the Verizon Wireless Arena.
The home crowd went home happy, as they have every game they have witnessed this postseason. Michael Mersch’s game winning goal at 4:10 of the first overtime ensured that the Monarchs extend their record to 8-0 at home in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
For the visiting Comets, who vanquished the Chicago Wolves in five, Oklahoma City in seven and Grand Rapids in six may have had a bit of tired legs coming into Game 1. They were outshot 37-17 for the game and were run all over the rink tonight.
First Period: Monarchs opened with some early pressure but Utica accomplished what so few before them couldn’t, and that was keep the Monarchs out of their nets in the very early goings. Utica settled and then had some chances in close on Berube, but he was up to task.
Manchester defenseman Jeff Schultz was injured in the opening sequences of the game and did not return.
The first period of a game where two teams who have not seen each other usually features lots of hits and lots of scrums. This game was no different, with both teams playing playoff hockey for nearly two months and reaching the pinnacle, neither wanted to be knocked off early.
As they have done to so many teams before, the Michael Mersch, Jordan Weal and Brian O’Neill line struck again. A shot from Jordan Weal was slammed home by Brian O’Neill at 16:00 of the first period.
But 1:01 later, Utica responded with a Sven Baertschti power play goal to bring the Comets back even.
Second Period: First ten minutes in there were no goals, but the Monarchs held a 7-1 shot advantage and the game had a feel like Manchester was on an extended power play. That shot advantaged crept to a 10-1 advantage and the Monarchs headed to an actual power play but did not register a shot. Manchester really took over and dominated the pace of the game. They play fast and if you can’t keep up then it’s usually to your peril.
The goaltenders were becoming the story of the game. Jacob Markstrom of Utica, denied the virtual firing squad of rubber sent his way from Manchester shooters and then J-F Berube, who didn’t see much action, was called into action with a dazzling glove save as Alexandre Grenier walked in a ripped one but Berube snared it with the glove.
Third Period: Manchester cashed on a power play as Michael Mersch scored his twelfth goal of the playoffs at 2:23. But the resiliency of the Utica Comets was on full display as Cory Conacher unleashed a slick wrist shot that Berube had no chance on 3:01 later at 5:24.
Just like the second period, time was in fast forward mode. Neither team wanted to make an error to cost their team. Both goaltenders were up to the challenge with Markstrom seeing more rubber than his counterpart Berube.
In the final minute of the period, the Monarchs took a delay of game penalty when Colin Miller cleared a puck over the glass from his own zone. Utica didn’t have any time to draw anything up in regulation so it was off to…
Overtime: Manchester continued to push the pace, and it paid off. A Weal shot at the net was pushed in by Mersch for the game winner. After a video review for possible net dislodgment, it was ruled a good goal.
Three Stars: 3) Jacob Markstrom (34 saves on 37 shots) 2) Brian O’Neill (goal, assist, +1) and 1) Micheal Mersch (two goals, one a game winner, assist, +2)
Game 2 goes Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m. in Manchester.
Jason writes Chirps From Center Ice, an online blog covering the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.