MANCHESTER, N.H. – It took nearly 100 minutes of hockey to do it, but the Manchester Monarchs took game one of their North Division semifinal series against the Reading Royals last night at the SNHU, 3-2.
The Monarchs (1-0) faced a tough challenge in Reading starter John Muse and peppered the goaltender with 57 shots for his trouble. Reading (0-1) returned the favor with 44 shots of their own, but Charles Williams proved up to the challenge, recovering from a second-period two-goal deficit to pick up the win.
After a first period which saw the two goaltenders successfully turn aside a combined 27 shots, the Royals got things started at 8:47 of the second period. Matt Willows would skate alongside the left circle, spotting a waiting Chris McCarthy waiting by the net. McCarthy would receive the pass and quickly put the puck past Williams and into the net, making the score 1-0 Reading.
It would turn into 2-0 Royals at 13:26 of the middle frame. This time, McCarthy would pick up the helper, finding the loose puck after a blocked shot. McCarthy would feed the pass to Matt Wilkins, who was waiting for the puck at the right post. He would put the puck over William’s effort to double the Reading lead.
But the Monarchs would start their comeback in the third, as Matt Marcinew collected his first goal of the playoffs at 6:25. After taking the puck from Ashton Rome, Spencer Watson would skate it into the slot and fire on goal. Marcinew was waiting in front and redirected the puck past Muse to pull the Monarchs back to 2-1.
Shortly after, at 8:57 of the third period, they would tie it up on a goal by Matt Leitner. After receiving a cross-ice pass from Alexx Privitera, Leitner one-timed the puck on net from the left circle and put the puck past the blocker of Muse to make it 2-2.
And that would be it for 48 minutes and 41 seconds. After one overtime didn’t get it done, the game moved to a second, and both goalies held strong throughout, with Muse and Williams stopping 18 and 17, respectively. However, it would be Sam Kurker who finally sealed the game for the Monarchs at 17:38 of 2OT. Taking a pass from Rob Hamilton, Kurker streaked down the left-wing boards and moved on the net, where he would beat Muse on a backhanded effort to take the game, 3-2.
The Takeaway – It’s hard to believe that these two teams are going to have to suit up again in a few hours, but that game sets the stage for what is sure to be a fantastic series between these rivals. Muse was every bit as good as expected, stopping 54 of 57 and proving how dangerous he can really be in net. But Williams stood his ground, and held the Royals to just two goals, letting the offense take care of business on the other end.
It’s really hard to complain about such a gritty comeback, but there were some issues that the Monarchs should look to shore up going forward, specifically: penalties. The Monarchs gave away five power-play opportunities to the Royals, including two sloppy tripping calls in overtime. Not good.
The Royals, on the other hand, played a relatively disciplined game, Nick Luukko’s delay of game in the first overtime notwithstanding. The PK held firm, though, and in the end, that’s all that really matters. The defense came alive in the second half of this game, holding the Royals to just four shots in the third and only seven in the first overtime. If they can put together more periods like that, they’ll be able to hang with Muse and put themselves into position to take this series.
That being said – expect Evan Cowley and Mark Dekanich to suit up tonight.
Notes – That would be Leitner’s 10th career ECHL playoff goal, so kudos to Leitner. Kurker and Marcinew, however, both picked up the first of their careers.
Kevin Morris led the Monarchs with nine shots.
Traditional Monarchs’ thorn-in-the-side Michael Huntebrinker and Monarchs’ scoring leader Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman were both held scoreless, but don’t expect that to last. At least one of these guys is gonna make fireworks before all’s said and done.
They’ll do it again tonight at the SNHU, puck drops at 6:00 pm EDT.