Michael Mersch netted a hat trick, Sean Backman scored twice and Manchester broke a tie with two goals in the final minute of the second period en route to a 7-4 win over Hartford in Game 2 of the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals at the Verizon Wireless Arena on Saturday night.
With their 13th straight home win, the Monarchs took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 3 is set for Tuesday in Hartford.
Mersch (3g) and Backman (2g, 1a) were two of seven Monarchs skaters who recorded multiple points in the game. The rookie Mersch now has five goals in the first two games of the series and 11 in 12 postseason outings overall.
Manchester outworked Hartford down low to set up the game’s first goal at 8:37 of the opening period. Nic Dowd’s shot from in close hit the post and bounded out to the left of Wolf Pack goaltender Yann Danis. Backman collected the loose puck, turned and wristed a shot home for his second goal of the playoffs.
Hartford came back with some of its first sustained pressure of the game, but the Monarchs upped the lead to 2-0 when Brian O’Neill muscled his way through the slot and took a shot that Danis knocked down but couldn’t find in his skates. Mersch followed up and knocked the rebound home for his first of the night at 11:25.
Shots on goal through 20 minutes were 13-3 in favor of the Monarchs.
Oscar Lindberg breathed life into the Wolf Pack at 4:16 of the second period with a highlight-reel goal, racing past a Monarchs defender, getting the puck on his forehand and snapping a shot high to the blocker side past Jean-Francois Berube to cut the deficit to 2-1.
The Wolf Pack then took their first lead of the series with 8:00 left in the second period, capitalizing on their first power play of the game. Chris Bourque’s shot was deflected on net by Lindberg, hit the crossbar and landed in the crease, where Joey Crabb crashed the net and put it home for his fifth goal of the postseason. Crabb now has points in eight consecutive games.
Trailing on home ice for the first time all postseason, the Monarchs regained control of the game with three goals in a span of 4:01 late in the second period.
Manchester got back even with a power-play goal of their own at 15:50, as Mersch cleaned up a loose puck on the doorstep for his second goal of the night.
Then with 49.7 seconds remaining in the frame, Nick Shore’s backcheck forced a turnover in the Wolf Pack end and he found an open O’Neill in the slot. O’Neill, who had missed a shift earlier in the period with an apparent injury, snapped a shot past Danis for his seventh goal of the playoffs and a 4-3 Manchester lead.
The Monarchs then put a dagger in the Wolf Pack’s hopes with 8.7 seconds left, as Backman picked up his second goal of the game with a deflection of Colin Miller’s point shot.
Each team scored three times in the middle frame, with Manchester owning an 11-6 edge in shots for the period.
Mackenzie Skapski replaced Danis in the Hartford net to start the third, but the Wolf Pack could not stem the tide and Dowd gave Manchester a 6-3 lead with a tip-in of Backman’s shot at 7:05 of the third.
Mersch completed the hat trick with his 11th goal of the playoffs at 14:13, putting a shot past Skapski from the bottom of the left-wing circle.
Klingberg finished the scoring with 3:11 to play, picking up his second goal of the game for Hartford. Lindberg had an assist for his fourth point of the night (1g, 3a).
Final shots were 29-18 in favor of the Monarchs, as the clubs combined for 11 goals on 47 shots for the night.
Berube stopped 14 of 18 shots but improved to 9-3 on the postseason. Danis (7-6) allowed five goals on 24 shots before yielding to Skapski, who was credited with three saves in the third period.
The Monarchs were 1-for-4 on the power play in the game; the Wolf Pack went 1-for-2.
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 – MANCHESTER 7, Hartford 4
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
*if necessary… All times Eastern