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Mersch’s return sparks Monarchs in Game 1

MANCHESTER, N.H. (theahl.com) … In a fast-paced, hard-hitting start to the 2015 Calder Cup Finals, Michael Mersch scored 4:10 into overtime to give the Manchester Monarchs a 3-2 win over the Utica Comets in front of 8,155 fans at the Verizon Wireless Arena on Saturday night.

The teams go right back at it in Game 2 on Sunday evening (5 p.m. ET, AHL Live, NHL Network Radio).

Mersch, who sat out Game 4 of the Monarchs’ conference finals sweep of Hartford after being banged up in Game 3, netted two goals and an assist in his return to the lineup and now has 13 goals and 21 points in 14 postseason contests.

Manchester got on the board first at the 16:00 mark of the first, as Brian O’Neill followed up a Jordan Weal attempt and banged home his 10th goal of the playoffs. It was the 12th time in 16 games this postseason that the Monarchs recorded the game’s first goal.

Sven Baertschi answered just 61 seconds later, taking a cross-ice feed from Alexandre Grenier and one-timing a shot past Jean-Francois Berube for a power-play goal, his seventh goal of the postseason.

Manchester controlled play through most of the scoreless second period, outshooting the Comets 12-3 in the frame. The Monarchs could not convert on a power play late in the period, and Utica’s best chance to take the lead was snuffed out by Berube with a dazzling glove save on Grenier with 2:14 left.

Utica defenseman Peter Andersson took a penalty for closing his hand on the puck early in the third period, and the Monarchs capitalized with a power-play goal. Mersch tapped in a pass from Nick Shore at the 2:23 mark of the third period, giving the Monarchs a 2-1 lead.

But the Comets quickly pulled even again at 5:24, as Cory Conacher’s wrist shot from the right-wing half wall eluded Berube. The goal was Conacher’s fourth in the last five games and his fifth overall this postseason.

The Monarchs killed off a Colin Miller penalty for delay of game that spanned the end of regulation and the start of overtime, and then got the game-winner when Mersch potted the rebound of Weal’s effort off a strong move to the net.

Shots on goal for the game were 37-17 in favor of Manchester, the eighth time this postseason that the Monarchs have allowed 20 shots or fewer in a game.

Berube (12-3) picked up the win with 15 saves. Markstrom (11-8) suffered the loss despite a 34-save performance.

NOTES: The win was the Monarchs’ 14th in a row on home ice, including an 8-0 mark during the 2015 Calder Cup Playoffs… Manchester improved to 12-0 in the playoffs when scoring the game’s first goal… Manchester was 1-for-4 on the power play in Game 1; Utica went 1-for-3… Before the game, the Monarchs were presented with the Richard F. Canning Trophy, which goes every season to the AHL’s Eastern Conference playoff champions… Former Monarchs Matt Moulson, Eric Healey, Bryan Muir, Jeff Giuliano, Derek Bekar, Doug Nolan and Richard Seeley took part in the ceremonial puck drop… The referees for Game 1 were Garrett Rank, in his first Calder Cup Finals, and Terry Koharski, working his eighth; linesmen were Trent Knorr and Alex Stagnone.

2015 Calder Cup Finals – Series “O” (best-of-7)
E1-Manchester Monarchs vs. W1-Utica Comets
Game 1 – Sat., June 6 – MANCHESTER 3, Utica 2 (OT)
Game 2 – Sun., June 7 – Utica at Manchester, 5:00
Game 3 – Wed., June 10 – Manchester at Utica, 7:00
Game 4 – Fri., June 12 – Manchester at Utica, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sat., June 13 – Manchester at Utica, 7:00
*Game 6 – Tue., June 16 – Utica at Manchester, 7:00
*Game 7 – Wed., June 17 – Utica at Manchester, 7:00
   *if necessary… All times Eastern