On a day in which both the Manchester Monarchs and Utica Comets suffered attrition, it was a Monarch returning from injury who scored the game-winning overtime goal in Manchester’s 3-2 overtime win in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Final.
After Jordan Weal used a burst of speed down the left wing before cutting in front of the Comets’ goal, Michael Mersch, who did not play in the Monarchs’ Game 4 win over Hartford last week and only recently was cleared to return to action, stuffed a loose puck past Jacob Markstrom 4:10 into overtime. When the goal was upheld by an official review, the 8,155 at Verizon Wireless Arena erupted in delirium.
The play came after the Monarchs killed off Colin Miller’s late third period delay of game penalty without allowing much sustained pressure in their own end.
“I think the message in the room going into overtime was ‘Kill this off and let’s go,'” Miller said. “‘Let’s get the puck back and get the possession, get the pucks on net.’ We were able to do that. It was good and we executed our game plan, and we’re very happy with the win.”
Both teams had lost players to injury earlier in the game. Manchester was able to withstand the loss of veteran defenseman Jeff Schultz, who absorbed a heavy Jake Virtanen first period hit and did not return to the game. Utica lost Sven Baertschi, who had already scored his team-leading seventh goal of the playoffs, later in the game.
Neither Monarchs coach Mike Stothers nor Utica Coach Travis Green provided many specifics on injuries, though Stothers did speak of players capable of filling in for Schultz should the 2014 Stanley Cup winner not be able to play in Game 2 Sunday.
“We’ve had guys injured and had guys recalled,” he said. “Schultzy was out towards the end of the year, and we put other defensemen in. We feel quite confident that whoever we put in, Kevin Raine, Nick Ebert, we have guys who’ve played a lot of hockey for us all season long. I’ll tell you what, those guys have been working extremely hard. So, you know what? Regardless of what we do tomorrow, whoever we put in, they’ll be ready to go.”
Teams are familiar with in-game defensive losses, and the Monarchs took the personnel loss in stride.
“Obviously we’re very solid as a six-man group there,” Miller said. “It was a little change, but I think once we got the rhythm down of two shifts and then one shift off, we were able to handle it. So it went pretty smooth.”
On top of the in-game losses, the Monarchs were also without backup goaltender Patrik Bartosak, who was unable to play due to back spasms and was deemed day-to-day by both Stothers and Kings hockey operations. Former University of Massachusetts goaltender Steve Mastalerz served as the back-up in Game 1.
J.F. Berube, on the win:
Yeah, it’s huge. Game 1 is always important in getting momentum in the series and I think we did a good job. We were intense, we picked up right where we left off and we put pressure on them all game. It was a good game for us.
Berube, on his performance:
It was good. I mean a bad goal, whatever. We won, that’s all that matters. I feel good about my game and everyone feels good about my game, so that’s all that matters.
Berube, on whether he expected both teams to generate a surplus of quality chances in the first period:
Yeah, for sure both teams are trying to get the momentum in the game and that’s the way you’re going to get it. It’s by putting pucks at the net and creating chances like that. It was to be expected and we were both ready.
Berube, on whether a dearth of shots against led to Utica’s second goal:
No, not at all. It’s something I faced all season long. I faced long stretches where I didn’t get too many shots and whatever happened on that goal happened. I have no explanation, no reasons either. It’s a bad goal, whatever. It’s over, we got the win.
Berube, on his save on Alexandre Grenier’s two-on-one opportunity:
It was a two-on-one, a quick two-on-one. We know they like to create momentum off rushes and it’s one of their strengths. It’s where they get most of their goals. I was ready for it and D played really good on it. He gave me the shot all the way and it was obvious that I was going to face a shot, so I was ready.
Berube, on having eight days off before Game 1:
I think it was really good. Guys were ready, maybe a little too overexcited I think at the beginning. But we settled down and we just played our game and we played intense. We worked hard. I think that’s what makes our success, how hard we work.
Berube, on what they learned about Utica:
They’re really skilled and they have skilled forwards. They can be dangerous off the rush, like I said. We have to make sure we don’t create too many turnovers and just play confident like we do.
Berube, on tying Jonathan Bernier’s record for the most playoff appearances by a Monarch goalie:
I don’t know. I guess it’s an honor. I don’t know what to say about that, but obviously I wouldn’t be there without my teammates. It’s all the team, not only me, because of the way we’ve been playing in playoffs and all season long. That’s the reason why we’re here and the reason why I get so many games in the playoffs.
Colin Miller, on whether the team’s possession game was on point:
Yeah, definitely. I think with that big goalie, you have to get a lot of shots to him and you’ve got to get the bodies in front because he’s a big goalie and he can stop a lot of pucks when he sees them. If we get the bodies there and we get the possession, we get pucks through and hopefully we get some by him.
Miller, on his ability to get pucks through to the net:
It was good. I think obviously that’s what all our D try to do, is get the pucks through. But it’s so hard at this time of year, guys are blocking pucks and stuff like that. Definitely like you said, just through down there and let the forwards work away.