(Photo: Heather Stebbins, The Pink Puck)
Another game, another overtime. The Manchester Monarchs and the Utica Comets faced off for game two of the Calder Cup Finals last night and once again were so evenly matched that they needed overtime to decide the outcome.
Game two did come with a change from the first game, though. After sustaining an injury in game one of the Finals, the Monarchs had to replace veteran defenseman Jeff Schultz. He had been a big presence on the blue line, not just for his size, and head coach Mike Stothers was faced with a decision between rookies Kevin Raine and Nick Ebert. He chose to give Raine the call and said it was a difficult decision but that he believed in Raine and Ebert understood.
When it came time for the puck to drop, there was a different feel. Both teams seemed to have settled more into their games and seemed to be more comfortable with their opponent. But there was just as much tension as the first with scrums after most of the whistles. Although these teams had never played each other before the start of this series, the Calder Cup Finals bring high stakes which stirs emotions to their highest and that is something every player knows.
Both teams had a number of good chances in the first period, but it was a story of even better goaltending and defense. Both JF Berube and Jacob Markstrom were saying that they wanted to make it as hard on the opposing team as possible.
The officials also seemed to be calling more penalties than the officiating team had the night before. While they were still letting things go, some actions were harder to ignore than others. Both teams continued to be strong on their penalty kill.
When Manchester got a full 5-on-4 chance, it seemed that they still would not be able to capitalize. Defenseman Colin Miller fired shot after shot from the point but the forwards were not able to get their sticks on the rebound to hit it home. Then, with 14 seconds left on the power play, the Monarchs were on the board. Sean Backman had the initial shot from the face-off circle to Markstrom’s left that just barely slid in underneath the crossbar. Zach O’Brien was credited with touching the puck before it went in.
With less than a minute remaining in the first frame, that would be the only goal. As was the case in the first game, though, the Comets were never far behind. Just over a minute into the second period, Utica tied the score up at one. After the Monarchs failed to clear the puck from the zone, it ended up on Nicklas Jensen’s stick. He took a hard shot from outside the face-off circle to Berube’s right that made it into the net.
That seemed to breathe more life into the Comets’ game. The second period held a number of penalties for the Monarchs and Stothers said post game that he did not like how the second period went. Partially as a result of the penalties, the Comets were able to keep the shots even, at times even taking the shot lead. It was something that had not happened in the first game where there had been a wide gap in shots.
It seemed to be hard for the Monarchs to get the space they had gotten on the ice earlier in the post season which showed how strong Utica was on defense. When the first power play of the period came for the Monarchs, the fans erupted, taking the chance to stop booing the officials every time they blew the whistle.
The third period came and it continued to be a show of goaltending but with Markstrom having to do a lot of work. He wasn’t alone, though, his team gave him a good amount of support. They made it hard to get rebounds with traffic and hard to get the puck to the net doing their best to get in passing lanes.
Although the Monarchs took the clear lead on the shot clock during the third period, neither team was able to break the tie and the game was bound for overtime yet again. Both teams brought a lot to the game and they both showed they clearly wanted to win.
The Monarchs game carried into the overtime period. It took Utica more than five minutes to register their first, and only, shot of the extra frame. Shortly after that the game was over with a slightly less contested goal than the one that ended game one.
Veteran forward David Van der Gulik shot the puck deep into Utica’s zone and into the corner. Rookie Nic Dowd was able to beat the Utica defense and dug the puck out of the corner. He took the initial shot that hit the post and bounced back onto his stick which he was then able to put past Markstrom.
With that goal, the Manchester Monarchs take the 2-0 series lead out to Utica for games 3, 4, and 5 (if necessary). Although they won both games at home, the Monarchs are not underestimating their opponent and not taking the lead for granted. They know that they have to continue to be better and bring their very best effort.
These teams have a lot of respect for each other and both games have been hard fought up until this point. The Monarchs have not lost at home yet during the post season and have a good road record as well, but the Comets have brought a much bigger challenge. Both on paper and on the ice these teams seem very evenly matched which has made for an exciting series thus far. Game three takes place on Wednesday June 10th in Utica.