Friday night was the final meeting of the season between the Manchester Monarchs and the Portland Pirates. The twelfth meeting of the season was hosted at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. The teams also had an interesting promotion going on this season. VIP Parts, Tires, and Service hosted the VIP Cup between the two teams. Whoever came out victorious on the series as a whole won the inaugural VIP Cup. Coming in, the Monarchs needed a regulation win in order to earn the Championship.
The game got off to a chippy start, which was not all that surprising. After having played each other eleven times already during the season, there had been plenty of time for animosity to build up. The first penalty of the game came at the 2:40 mark to Justin Feser of Portland in his professional debut. However, the Monarchs could not convert on the man advantage, a pattern that would hold for both teams throughout the game.
About halfway through the first period, Chris Huxley of the Monarchs hit one of the Pirates hard into the boards. But, Boris Valabik was also on the ice and he took exception to the hit, immediately going after Huxley. Valabik landed a few punches before they both fell to the ice. With the size differential, it was not surprising that Valabik handled the situation easily. Manchester answered in their own way. Just 26 seconds after the fight, Hunter Bishop brought the puck into the Pirates zone and put it by Pirates goalie, Mike Lee. The net came off in the process, which meant that the goal would be under review. It was a good goal, though, and the Monarchs took the 1-0 lead to the first intermission.
“We talked before the game. We know their defense likes to pinch down a lot so we wanted to have a good cross support with our wings,” Bishop said of his goal and their offensive approach. “I felt like I had a good step on the guy so I decided to just take it to the net. Somehow it found a way in.”
The second period picked up right where the first left off. It was clear that there was still a lot of tension between the teams. Just three minutes in, the Pirates made it a tie game. Darian Dziurzynski set Brett Hextall up with a pass in front of goaltender Martin Jones and Hextall was able to easily put it in the net. Despite having 48 second two man advantage, the Monarchs were unable to solve the Pirates penalty kill. Instead, Phil Lane put one behind Jones to give the Pirates the 2-1 lead with about a minute and a half remaining in the period.
Manchester came out in the third showing that they were not ready to give up on getting a win. They had a couple good chances that they could not seem to capitalize on early even though they had a man advantage. Just six seconds after the penalty expired, rookie Jordan Weal tied up the game once more. He put the puck in the top of the net, over Lee’s shoulder after a pass from Brandon Kozun. That would be the closest the Monarchs got, though. Dziurzynski was wide open in front of the net for a rebound to put the Pirates up 3-2. Fesar picked up his first professional point with the assist on the goal. The Monarchs pulled Jones towards the end of the game but could not hold the Pirates off. Phil Lane scored his second of the night with the empty net and sealed the 4-2 win for the Pirates.
With the win, the Pirates also became the champions of the first ever VIP Cup. The team was awarded a trophy post game. At this point in the season, every game matters for those that are not atop their division in the playoff push. After last night, four playoff spots in the Eastern Conference have been claimed. The Monarchs host the division leading Providence Bruins tonight before heading down to Worcester for a matinee against the Sharks. Manchester will search to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Pirates, with the win, reduced their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to 7.
Photo Credit: Portland Pirates