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MANCHESTER, N.H. – The Manchester Monarchs increased their division lead and picked up their fifth straight win with a 3-2 overtime victory over the Adirondack Thunder Friday night at the SNHU.

The Monarchs (33-16-3-1) overcame an early deficit and some sloppy penalties to take a much-needed win over their rivals. For their part, the Thunder (29-20-3-3) played a good defensive game against the Monarchs’ high octane offense and forced the overtime to pick up a point and put themselves back to sole possession of second in the North.

Adirondack broke the seal in the first period, when Desmond Bergin picked up a pass from Terrence Wallin at the right point. He rocketed a slapper on net that beat Charles Williams on the glove side to make it 1-0 at 3:06 of the opening frame.

The Monarchs wouldn’t pull even until 8:12 of the second. Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman sent a pass across ice, circle-to-circle, finding Colton Saucerman. Saucerman slapped it past the blocker of Thunder tender Drew Fielding to draw the game at 1-1.

The Monarchs would gain the lead in the third period, when LaVallee-Smotherman worked his magic once again with the helper. Working from behind the Adirondack net, he pushed it ahead to a waiting Matt Schmalz at the right of Fielding. Schmalz angled the puck sharply into the cage past Fielding to bring the score to 2-1 at 5:10 of the third.

But the Thunder would make it a whole new hockey game at 8:13 of the third. With Craig Wyszomirski in the box for delay of game, the Thunder pressed their man advantage. Wallin would pick up his second assist of the night, finding Brian Ward with a pass at the left dot. Ward wristed it on net, beating Williams to the right and making it 2-2 with just over half a period to play.

The teams would trade opportunities in the last sixth of regulation, but both goaltenders would hold firm and force overtime. Fielding was especially impressive after Ward went from potential hero to potential goat, getting rung up for interfering with Wyszomirski with 50 seconds to play.

The Monarchs started the overtime period on the advantage and only needed 13 seconds to seal the deal. Charging down the ice along the boards, Matt Leitner sent a pass from the left side to find Zac Lynch moving on net in the slot. Lynch redirected the puck by Fielding on the glove side to earn the 3-2 victory for Manchester.

The Takeaway – The Monarchs are starting to heat up again after struggling through January, and it’s getting to be just the right time to start racking up the wins over divisional opponents. That’s not to say that a team doesn’t always want to win against divisional opponents. But with the lead they have, the Monarchs’ destiny is in their own hands right now. With 19 games left on the schedule, only three of them are against teams outside of the North. Even more significant: six are against second-place Adirondack, and four more are against third-place Reading. Also in the hunt are the Wheeling Nailers, currently sitting in fourth, but who have led the division at times during the season. The Monarchs only play them twice more, and the series is split at two games apiece. Manchester has ample opportunity to not only secure their own playoff position but to also affect who they’ll face in round one. Only three points separate the three rivals, so right now every point counts.

With all that said: this team is jelling right now. The offensive contributors are starting to realign after returning from various injuries and call-ups. Smotherman and Leitner continue to rack up assists, Lynch is solidifying his status as a top goal scorer in Manchester. The defense, led by Saucerman and David Kolomatis, continues to impress, and Williams is a top-10 goalie in the ECHL. When the team was having trouble finding its footing on offense, the physical play increased, with Wyszomirski and (5’8”!) Jake Wood leading the way with the hits. The team went 1-for-3 on the power-play, although only one of those was a full two minutes (or even over one minute, for that matter. Their first PP was 13 seconds long.) A few of their shots were blocked spectacularly by gutsy guys on the Thunder roster, and Fielding robbed them two or three times. Oh, and Michael Doherty pinged one off the bar on a breakaway. So, all things considered, this could have been a much bigger win with a little puck luck. But give credit to the Thunder, who well and truly earned their point.

Other Notes – Smotherman racked up his 60th point with his second assist of the night, and he’s scoring 1.18 points-per-game. He’s also on a four-game point streak. Actually, scratch that; he’s on a four-game TWO POINTS streak. He’s only missed the score sheet twice since January 14, and in the 14 games since he has only scored one or fewer in four of them. That is, in a word, redonkulous. Okay, one more stat and then moving on: since January 14th, Smotherman is averaging 2.07 points per game.

The Monarchs still sit in second for goals-for and are tied (with the Fort Wayne Komets) for fifth in goals-against. Just ahead of them both are the Royals, then the Florida Everblades, and the stingy South Carolina Stingrays are at the top of the heap with 112 in 51 games. Just in case anyone was sizing up potential playoff opponents.

The Monarchs return to action Saturday night against the floundering Worcester Railers. Puck drops at the SNHU at 6 pm EST.

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