Michael Mersch scored twice as the Manchester Monarchs opened the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals with a 3-2 win over the Hartford Wolf Pack in Game 1 on Thursday night.
It was the 12th consecutive home win for the Monarchs, who host Game 2 of the best-of-seven series on Saturday.
As they have all postseason, the Monarchs came out quickly and generated several scoring opportunities early before Mersch poked home a loose puck off a goal-mouth scramble just 35 seconds into the contest.
It was the fifth goal scored by the Monarchs in the opening minute of a game this postseason.
The Wolf Pack tied things up at the 11:33 mark of the first period. Oscar Lindberg gathered the rebound of a Chris Bourque shot and backhanded it past Jean-Francois Berube for his second goal of the playoffs. Joey Crabb also picked up an assist, giving him points in seven straight games for Hartford.
Manchester regained the lead at 11:07 of the second period when Nic Dowd led an odd-man rush and, from the left-wing circle, snapped a shot past the glove of Yann Danis for his second goal of the playoffs. With an assist on the goal, David Van der Gulik extended his scoring streak to six games.
Another greasy goal by Mersch allowed the Monarchs to carry a 3-1 lead into the second intermission. An extended sequence around the Hartford cage ended with Danis losing his stick and Mersch sweeping a backhand home off the rebound of a Kevin Gravel shot with 3:58 left in the middle frame.
Hartford killed off a Manchester power play early in the third, and moments later Mat Bodie took a shot from the left-wing wall that beat Berube to the short side, cutting the Monarchs lead to 3-2 with 13:17 left in regulation. Chris Bourque drew his second assist of the night, giving him 10 points in the last four games and 94 points for his AHL playoff career to move into sole possession of seventh place all-time.
The Wolf Pack pushed for the tie late with Danis off for an extra attacker, but the Monarchs held on to grab the 1-0 series lead.
Berube (8-3) made 24 saves in the win, while Danis (7-5) finished with 22 stops in defeat.
Eastern Conference Finals – Series “M” (best-of-7)
1-Manchester Monarchs vs. 3-Hartford Wolf Pack
Game 1 – Thu., May 21 – MANCHESTER 3, Hartford 2
Game 2 – Sat., May 23 – Hartford at Manchester, 7:00
Game 3 – Tue., May 26 – Manchester at Hartford, 7:00
Game 4 – Wed., May 27 – Manchester at Hartford, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sat., May 30 – Hartford at Manchester, 7:00
*Game 6 – Sun., May 31 – Manchester at Hartford, 7:00
*Game 7 – Tue., June 2 – Hartford at Manchester, 7:00