READING, Pa. – The hard-fought North Division semifinal between the Manchester Monarchs and Reading Royals went into extra time and yet again, the Monarchs took the overtime victory, 4-3, at Santander Arena on Monday night. The game was marked by high tension, with the teams combining for 34 penalty minutes.
The Royals (0-3) held the lead at three different points during the game, but couldn’t hold off the attack of the Monarchs (3-0), who put up 41 shots in regulation and another 15 in overtime. The Monarchs also benefited from another strong, late-game performance by goaltender Charles Williams, who has yet to surrender a goal in the third period or later this series.
For the third straight game, the Royals got on the board first, and they did it quickly. Just 50 seconds into the contest, it was Chris McCarthy with a shot at the top of the left face-off circle. Williams intervened but allowed the rebound to get loose, where it found the stick of Matt Wilkins, who put the puck over the blocker of Williams to make it 1-0.
The Monarchs battled back at 9:39 of the first, on a shot from Colton Saucerman. Holding the puck at the point, Rob Hamilton sent a pass along the line to Saucerman, who fired a one-timer on net. With Kevin Morris providing the screen, the puck beat Royals keeper John Muse to make it 1-1.
After Tony Turgeon was sent away for interference, the Royals would make it 2-1 at 15:14 of the first period. Adam Schmidt backhanded a pass to McCarthy, who took the puck into the slot. He made a nifty move on net and beat Williams on the glove side to regain the lead for the Royals.
But the Monarchs would quickly draw even again, at 15:57 of the opening period. Michael Doherty took the puck from the offensive zone end boards up past the circle, where he took a shot on net that Muse made the save on. However, the loose puck was found by Sam Kurker, who took the shot off of the rebound that found the twine to make it 2-2.
It would be 5:26 of the second before the Royals took the lead yet again, this time on an effort by Nolan Zajac. Zajac was at the point when he received a pass from McCarthy, then slapped it home past Williams’s outstretched glove to pull ahead to 3-2.
The Monarchs would struggle back yet again, however, at 11:21 of the third. Wilkins moved to clear the puck out of the Reading zone, but it was intercepted by Zac Lynch, who wasted no time capitalizing on the turnover, ripping a shot past Muse to draw back even at 3-3.
And so, for the third time in as many contests, the teams went to overtime. Both sides traded odd-man rushes and good scoring opportunities for much of the period, but it looked as though a second overtime might be in store again. But at 17:24 of the overtime period, it was Rob Hamilton who would play hero. Matt Leitner passed the puck from the left side to Hamilton in the slot, and the defender beat Muse five-hole to steal the victory from the Royals in their own house, 4-3.
The Takeaway – Let’s get this out of the way: there were 11 minor penalties between the two teams in the first period. All the extra hockey has made things heated between the division rivals, and it came to a head last night in the form of chippy hits and tussles behind the play. Three of the seven goals were scored on the power-play, with the Monarchs going 1-for-5 and the Royals 2-for-8. It’s possible that they got it out of their systems, but going into yet another overtime probably didn’t help matters much. It will be interesting to see if the fireworks continue in game four on Wednesday.
Beyond that, this whole series has been a tense duel between the two goalies, each of them putting up herculean efforts to keep their teams in these games. Of note: Williams has yet to let up a goal in the third period or later in this series, and that has been key to keeping them in the games long enough to score those crucial late-game goals. The offenses have been no slouch, of course, but Muse and Williams have combined for 278 saves in three games. Expect more of the same Wednesday night. The Monarchs will be going for the sweep, but Reading isn’t going just to roll over, and Muse will more than likely be very tough to crack with the series on the line.
Notes – Turgeon returned to the lineup last night, accumulating four penalty minutes, and terrorizing the Royals with physical play.
Kurker picked up his second goal of the playoffs, and Hamilton got the first of his career. Saucerman reached number five of his ECHL career, over three postseasons.
Monday night’s overtime game was the third straight overtime contest in this series. It is the 27th time in league history that the first three games of a series have needed extra time. Only twice has it happened in the first four games of a playoff round.
Game four kicks off Wednesday night at Santander Arena in Reading, PA, where the Royals will be fighting for their lives in this postseason. Puck drops at 7 pm EDT.