In what was essentially a very close series between the two best teams during the regular series, it was Manchester’s extra power in front of net that saw them hoist the Calder Cup in five games.
Four of the five games were decided by a single goal as the Manchester Monarchs ended their 14-year AHL tenure with a championship.
The opening two games of the series saw Utica visit Manchester and it was the home team who prevailed on both occasions in overtime.
Despite being heavily out-shot and outplayed at times, Utica twice responded in quick fashion to going a goal behind in game one, scoring just 1:01 after Manchester’s opener and 3:01 after the second, five minutes into the final frame. The Monarchs dominated the four minutes of overtime played and tallied on the fourth attempt as Michael Mersch potted his 13th goal during the playoffs.
Game Two was a far more balanced affair for the most part and the Comets were unfortunate to fall behind after being the better side for the most part during the opening period, as Zach O’Brien struck on the powerplay. Utica responded to tie the game just a minute into the second and there would be no more scoring during regulation. Manchester were on top during the final twenty minutes and then through overtime and perhaps deservedly took the win through Nic Dowd’s goal.
The series headed to Utica with the Comets needing to register a win to avoid the possibility of being swept at home.
They were given the perfect start as Cal O’Reilly, usually the assist king, scored his first of the post-season inside six minutes. Manchester then lost netminder Jean-Francois Berube to injury and in came Patrick Bartosak. The Czech goaltender faced a barrage from the home team who were being roared on by a fervent and passionate crowd. Their 17 shots during the opening frame would provide a second goal, this time from Aleixandre Grenier but against the run of play Manchester’s Adrian Kempe potted one with 25 seconds to play.
Nicklas Jensen restored the two goal advantage for Utica at 6:18 of the second period but just over a minute later Kempe struck once again. That was as close as Manchester would get however and the scoring was done as both netminders were excellent, especially Markstrom as he backstopped Utica to their first victory of the series.
Game four was perhaps more reminiscent of the way Manchester prefer to play and it certainly wasn’t to Utica’s taste. It was certainly a feisty affair, as tempers flared with 64 penalty minutes accrued.
Sean Backman and Dowd struck within 32 seconds to put Manchester up 2-0 but Utica also put a pair of quick goals(inside five minutes) to ensure a tied game after twenty minutes.
Another rapid double for Manchester early in the second period restored their previous advantage and this time there was no let-up and with 11 seconds remaining in the middle frame they struck a fifth and a killer blow through that man Dowd again.
A sixth goal from Kempe six minutes into the third period saw Markstrom replaced and Utica would only muster a consolation late in the piece as they fell 6-3.
With everything on the line in their last home game of the series whatever the outcome, Utica came out firing but would shoot themselves in the foot. A horrible turnover allowed Kempe to open the scoring at the midway marker of the opening frame and just three minutes later a powerplay tally doubled Manchester’s lead. Whatever the Comets threw at young goaltender Bartosak, the Czech goalie was turning aside in a performance that showed a great deal of poise and promise. His thirteen saves during the middle frame ensured his side’s two goal advantage with twenty minutes left to play.
Both team’s exchanged gilt edge chances and some of the saves made bordered on the ridiculous.
Bartosak’s shutout bid was denied with 15 seconds left on the clock but there wasn’t to be one more comeback from the Comets as Manchester deservedly hung on for the win and the championship.
Manchester’s dominant firepower did prove the difference as I suggested in my preview and the following guys came up big when required.
Nick Shore put up seven points during the finals with six helpers.
Dowd, Mersch and O’Neill all had five points to their name with the former two also tallying an overtime game winner a piece.
Kempe led his team with four goals, all coming in the final three games of the series.
Jordan Weal was held to just three assists during this series but he was awarded the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the MVP in the Calder Cup Playoffs for 10 goals and 12 assists for a league-best 22 points in 19 playoff games.
A special mention must be given to Patrick Bartosak, thrown into this series after the injury to Berube and after a shaky effort in game four at times, he was superb in the decider.
It was a hell of a season for the Utica Comets and they were only defeated by another outstanding team.
I’ll have more to come on the season Comets and the impressive Jacob Markstrom in upcoming articles.
Many congratulations to the Manchester Monarchs on a well earned Calder Cup victory.