The Manchester Monarchs are one win away from the franchise’s first-ever appearance in the Calder Cup Finals after a 5-3 win over Hartford in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the XL Center on Tuesday night.
The Monarchs have a commanding 3-0 series lead and can capture the Eastern Conference championship with a win in Game 4 on Wednesday.
Manchester took the game’s first eight shots on goal and grabbed a 1-0 lead on the scoreboard at the 5:11 mark of the first period. Mackenzie Skapski, making his first career playoff start in net for Hartford, gave up a couple of rebounds before Nick Shore finally capitalized. It was the goal of the series and third of the postseason for Shore, a 20-goal scorer during the regular season who also played 34 games in the NHL with Los Angeles.
The Monarchs regained the lead with 33.9 seconds left in the opening period as a Hartford clearing attempt landed right on the stick of Brian O’Neill in front. O’Neill dropped a pass to Jordan Weal, who fed it back to O’Neill at the bottom of the left-wing circle where it was snapped home to give Manchester a 2-1 edge after the first.
Adrian Kempe was credited with the Monarchs’ third goal of the game, at 5:05 of the middle frame. During a goal-mouth scramble, Kempe chipped a shot that hit off the skate of one Wolf Pack defender and slid under a second defender and Skapski to give Manchester a 3-1 lead.
Connecticut native Sean Backman put the Monarchs in front 4-1 at 7:38 of the third period with his third goal of the series, leading a two-on-one rush and firing a slap shot from the left circle that beat Skapski.
Danny Kristo cashed in on a Wolf Pack power play with 7:44 left in regulation to cut the deficit to 4-2, but Zach O’Brien restored the three-goal lead with 6:00 to play, picking off a clearing try at the blue line and blowing a shot past Skapski to make it 5-2.
Joey Crabb finished the scoring with one-tenth of a second remaining, deflecting home a Michael Kostka shot from the point. The goal allowed Crabb to extend his point-scoring streak to nine games (6-4-10), longest in the AHL this postseason.
Manchester finished with a 34-20 advantage in shots on goal, allowing 20 shots or fewer for the seventh time in 13 playoff games.
Berube (10-3) stopped 17 shots in the win, while Skapski (0-1) finished with 29 saves 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 – MANCHESTER 7, Hartford 4
Game 3 – Tue., May 26 – Manchester 5, HARTFORD 3
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