MANCHESTER, N.H. – In what is becoming a familiar scene, it took two overtime periods to find a winner in game two of the first-round Kelly Cup Playoffs series between the Reading Royals and Manchester Monarchs last night at SNHU Arena. In the end, the Monarchs would take the 3-2 decision for the second straight night, going up 2-0 in the series.
The Monarchs (2-0) are beginning to look like the team that started this year on an absolute tear offensively, having put up 39 shots in regulation, and another 17 in the two overtime periods. Reading (0-2) did a great job of weathering the storm, once again relying on goaltender John Muse to keep them in the game, but ultimately the Monarchs would crack the code and finally put this game away after three hours and 54 minutes.
As has been the custom, the Royals got on the board first, this time at 6:32 of the first period. Down a man after a Chase Golightly penalty for holding, the Royals would take advantage of a bad turnover at the blue line. It would be Adam Schmidt who found the puck, breaking away on the Monarchs’ net and beating Monarchs goaltender Charles Williams with a wrist shot to make it 1-0 Reading.
The Royals would hold the lead until 11:13 of the second, when Michael Doherty would put in the equalizer. After Colton Saucerman took a shot from the right circle which was stopped by Muse, Doherty would scoop up the rebound in the slot and send the puck right back on net off the backhand, beating Muse and making the score 1-1.
It would be 2-1 Monarchs shortly after, as captain David Kolomatis would find his first goal of the playoffs at 13:28 of the second. With Golightly back in the box for a kneeing penalty, Williams would leave the puck in the corner for Kolomatis, who decided to take matters into his own hands. He skated the puck down to the Reading end by himself, and wristed it on net from the right circle, where it made its way between the pads of Muse and into the back of the net.
The Royals would find their own power-play goal at 17:38 to draw things even again. A Sam Kurker roughing penalty led to a man advantage for Reading, Taking the puck at the point, forward Chris McCarthy would skate it ahead to the left face-off circle, before feeding a pass that found Matt Willows in the slot. Willows fired the shot on net that hit the post, unluckily ricocheting into the back of Williams and then across the goal line to make it 2-2.
And so it would stand through the third, where a Rob Hamilton delay of game penalty resulted in a Royals power-play where the Monarchs’ defense would hold Reading to zero shots, and a first overtime period which included a penalty shot for Willows that didn’t end the game. It would, in fact, take until 14:08 of the second overtime for a decision to be had in this game, and it would come off of the stick of Jordan LaVallee-Smotherman. With a bit of a fracas happening in front of the Royals net, LaVallee-Smotherman would find the puck come loose to the left of Muse. In the confusion, he put the puck on net and finally ended the game with the 3-2 game-winner.
The Takeaway – Muse and Williams are absolute machines. After playing nearly five periods of intense playoff hockey on Friday night, there was a zero percent chance that either of them would have played Saturday… and yet, they both did. They also then proceeded to play nearly five more periods of intense playoff hockey. The fact that neither of them will buckle when the pressure is on is making this an incredibly impressive, suspenseful, and exhausting series for everyone involved.
The Monarchs put themselves in a much better position to win this game, holding the Royals to just 21 shots in regulation while registering 39 of their own, and keeping the penalties down to just three. They even scored on the power-play, though they also gave up a shorty, and Reading picked up a PP goal of their own. It was a solid effort by both teams in this one, and while no one really deserved to lose it, it’s safe to say that all in attendance and everyone watching at home was a little glad when it was over. Double overtime every night is a little silly and really unsustainable for both teams.
And so, it’s off to Reading for three straight games, where the Royals have been especially successful. The Royals led the North Division in points percentage at home at .694, but the Monarchs led the North away, with a .639. The teams split the regular season games in Reading this year, 2-2, so the Monarchs have shown that they can win in Santander Arena. However, here’s the biggest (and scariest) stat: the Royals only managed to rack up 301 PIMs at home this year, the lowest total in the ECHL by 23 minutes (for comparison’s sake: the Monarchs had 529 minutes in the box at SNHU.) They play an incredibly tight game already, and it apparently only gets tighter on home ice. So, the Royals are down 2-0, but they’re not out of this thing by a longshot.
Notes – Kolomatis’s goal marked his fifth career playoff goal with the Monarchs, and his 15th career playoff point. That puts him just two points shy of cracking the top 10 Monarchs in playoff points, where he would be tied for 9th with Noah Clarke and Patrick O’Sullivan. Topping that list? 2015 AHL Playoff MVP (and current Philadelphia Flyer) Jordan Weal. In second? Matt Leitner, who averages just north of a point-per-game in the playoffs, and will tie for first if he picks up one more. For Smotherman and Doherty, their first playoff goals with the Monarchs, though LaVallee-Smotherman has had 10 AHL postseason goals across two playoffs with the Chicago Wolves, and a handful in Denmark and Sweden.
Game three in Reading comes Monday night at Santander Arena in Reading, PA. Puck drops at 7:00 pm EDT.