Hartford CT – It’s been a long road for both the Hartford Wolf Pack and the Manchester Monarch’s and now the stakes are running at an all-time high – the Monarch’s are now one win away from making the franchise’s first-ever Calder Cup Finals appearance.
On the road for the first two games of the series, the Wolf Pack seemingly dropped the ball with a 3-2 loss in game one on Thursday and a 7-4 loss in game two on Saturday. Returning home tonight for game three at the XL Center, the Wolf Pack were desperately looking for a win, however the Monarch’s who were the best team in the American Hockey League this season, came out stronger than ever. When the Wolf Pack began their battle for the Eastern Conference final title, and the chance to advance; they knew this would be one of their more elite opponents.
The Monarchs took the game’s first eight shots at the net and put up the first notch to take a 1-0 lead. Rookie Mackenzie Skapski, who replaced veteran Yann Danis in the third period of Game 2, got his first start since April 3. Skapski let the Monarch’s Nick Shore, sneak a shot by at 5:11.This marked Shore’s third postseason goal.
Refusing to back down, Hartford’s Chad Nehring took up a pass from teammate Mat Bodie to tie the game on a power-play goal at 13:47. But, the Monarch’s were quick to regain the lead after a clearance attempt landed on the stick of Brian O’Neill. O’Neill then sent a pass to Jordan Weal, who fed it back to O’Neill as he was waiting down in the left-wing circle. O’Neill snapped the puck into the goal with just 33.9 seconds left in the first period.
The third goal of the game was credited to Monarch’s Adrian Kempe. Kempe chipped a shot, which hit off a defender and slid past Skapski at 5:05, further widening the score gap. “When they have the lead, they can play that way,” Hartford’s head coach Ken Gernander said. “It’s a hard thing for our guys. You don’t want to give up puck possession, but you can’t force it into some of those areas. So we’re going to have to find different passing options.”
The hungry Monarchs wouldn’t stop with just a 3-1 lead. Sean Backman, a Connecticut native himself, led a two-on-one rush at 7:38 firing a hard shot that once again beat Skapski. “They got second and third opportunities up front, we didn’t have any odd-man situations at their net front, for the most part,” Gernander said trying to push the perceived blame away from Skapski.
Other players were also quick to divert any misconceptions, “They’ve executed really well,” Hartford defenseman Michael Kostka said. “One thing that they’ve really done a good job at is getting off to a good start. Seems like we’ve been playing from behind every game that we’ve been in.”
Scrambling for a comeback, Danny Kristo capitalized on a power play at 7:44 of the third to cut the deficit to 4-2. Manchester’s Zach O’Brien was quick to bring back the three-goal lead with another flaming shot at 6:00 remaining in regulation to make the score 5-2. Hartford’s Joey Crabb put the last goal in the net with just mere seconds remaining to close the game at 5-3, Manchester.
Tomorrow’s meeting will be the ultimate challenge. Game four could be an end all be all for the Wolf Pack, or it could be a chance for the team to redeem themselves and have another shot at the championship title. Game four will be played at Hartford’s XL Center.
Shots: 34-20 Manchester
1. N. Shore (Manchester)
2. Z. O’Brien (Manchester)
3. B. O’Neill (Manchester)