Manchester’s high-powered offense continued to get the best of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s league-leading defense on Monday night, and it has the Monarchs one win away from the Eastern Conference finals.
Jordan Weal recorded a hat trick to pace Manchester to a 5-2 victory over the Penguins and a three-games-to-one lead in their best-of-seven conference semifinal series. The Monarchs can advance with a win in Game 5 in Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday.
The Monarchs have scored 15 times in four games against the Penguins, who allowed the fewest goals in the AHL during the regular season. Manchester’s top line of Weal (5-3-8), Brian O’Neill (3-3-6) and Michael Mersch (1-4-5) has combined for 19 points in the series.
The Monarchs opened the scoring just 42 seconds into Game 4 as Weal banged home the rebound of Mersch’s point shot, the sixth goal this postseason scored by Manchester within the first three minutes of a game.
Manchester broke the game open with three goals in the second period. Mersch led the Monarchs on a 2-on-1 shorthanded rush and converted for a 2-0 lead at 5:45 of the second period, his sixth goal of the postseason.
Weal scored his second of the game at 12:57 of the second period, getting a piece of Colin Miller’s shot from the center point, and David Van der Gulik extended the lead to 4-0 at 16:53, one-timing a drive from the right circle past Matt Murray for his second goal of the playoffs and fifth point of the series.
Weal finished off the hat trick with his 10th goal of the postseason, a power-play goal at 9:45 of the third period. Weal snapped a shot from in close past Jeff Zatkoff, who had relieved Murray after the second intermission.
The Penguins spoiled Jean-Francois Berube’s shutout bid at 10:58 as Nick Drazenovic forced a turnover in the Monarchs zone, fought through a pair of defenders and, falling to the ice, fed a pass over to Tom Kostopoulos, who netted his third goal of the playoffs.
Bryan Rust made it 5-2 just 37 seconds later as he raced wide around a Manchester defender coming up the left side, cut to the net and slipped a shot past Berube for his second goal in as many games since returning to the Penguins lineup from injury.
Manchester held off the late Penguins charge – Wilkes-Barre owned a 10-2 advantage in shots over the final period – to end a seven-game losing streak in road playoff games dating back to their last win in 2012 (at Norfolk).
Berube (6-3) stopped 27 of 29 shots in the win for the Monarchs, while Murray (4-3) allowed four goals on 25 shots in two periods of work.
Eastern Conference Semifinals – Series “I” (best-of-7)
1-Manchester Monarchs vs. 4-Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins
Game 1 – Wed., May 6 – MANCHESTER 4, W-B/Scranton 3 (3OT)
Game 2 – Thu., May 7 – MANCHESTER 5, W-B/Scranton 2
Game 3 – Sat., May 9 – W-B/SCRANTON 2, Manchester 1
Game 4 – Mon., May 11 – Manchester 5, W-B/SCRANTON 2
Game 5 – Tue., May 12 – Manchester at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 6 – Fri., May 15 – W-B/Scranton at Manchester, 7:00
*Game 7 – Sat., May 16 – W-B/Scranton at Manchester, 7:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern