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December 11. 2011 8:54PM

Monarchs rally to top Portland

Patrick Mullen (14) celebrates his goal with Monarchs teammates as stuffed animals lie on the ice after being tossed by fans as part of the annual "Teddy Bear Toss" promotion. The toys will be donated to help needy children. (MARK BOLTON / UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — On an afternoon of firsts, the Manchester Monarchs defeated the Portland Pirates 5-4 in a shootout in front of 6,497 fans at Verizon Wireless Arena Sunday.

The Monarchs (16-10-2) are now tied with St. John's for first place in the Atlantic Division with 34 points. Manchester has won eight in a row at home and will play at Portland Wednesday before hosting St. John's Friday night.

Playing without forwards Justin Azevedo (arm injury), Rich Clune (lower body injury) and Cam Paddock (suspension), the Monarchs got big efforts from rookie Robbie Czarnik (first pro goal and a shootout goal) and Stefan Legein (his first two goals of the season) in a comeback win.

“Every game it seems like somebody new is coming to the forefront,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “We're making progress and we keep sharing the workload and that's the sign of a good club. Guys are all pitching in and taking turns carrying the load.”

The first four attempts were all stopped in the shootout, but Czarnik finally beat Pirates goalie Justin Pogge in the third frame and captain Marc-Andre Cliche kept his perfect shootout record (6-6 this season) intact with a second goal.

Manchester goalie Martin Jones stopped all four Portland shooters to preserve the win, saving his best for the last two as he stretched out to make a toe save on Brock Trotter in round three and followed with a sliding right pad save on Brett MacLean to ice the win.

Trailing 3-2, the Monarchs came out strong in the third period and tied the game at the 6:00 mark. Linden Vey fed Legein streaking into the Portland zone and Legein let loose a nasty wrist shot to beat Pogge high glove-side.

The Pirates reclaimed the lead 1:23 later as Nathan Oystrick's shot from a tough angle on the right wing boards trickled through Jones and in.

Manchester knotted the game at 4-4 on Legein's second tally at 9:35. Thomas Hickey held the puck in at the blue line and passed across to the right side where Legein uncorked a big slap shot to beat Pogge.

“It was really nice, especially the way it happened with two goals in the third,” Legein said of getting his first two. “I'm glad to finally get the monkey off my back and hopefully keep rolling.”

The Pirates skated a power play chance in overtime but could not cash in, sending the game to the shootout. The Monarchs have now played in 13 one-goal games in the past 14 outings. In that span, Manchester is 11-2-1.

“We skated hard and played hard. Three games in less than three days, to come out with that kind of burst in the third was really impressive,” Morris said. “It came down to the wire and our guys are finding ways to get it done and they deserve a lot of credit for that.”

The game started out on the wrong skate for Manchester as Portland took a 2-0 lead with two quick goals within 51 seconds of one another in the first period.

MacLean made it 1-0 at 5:49, banging home the second of two rebound chances from the left doorstep. Trotter pushed the lead to 2-0 at 6:40, re-directing a slap-pass from Tyler Eckford at the right post.

The Monarchs broke through 14 seconds later, sending a rain of stuffed animals down onto the ice for the annual “Teddy Bear Toss” to help children in need.

Ray Kaunisto gained the Portland zone and fed Patrick Mullen on the right wing. Mullen snapped a shot under the arm of Pogge and inside the far post to make it 2-1. In another first for the season, Justin Johnson notched an assist on the goal for his first point of the year.

Portland went up 3-1 at 8:21 of the second period, striking on the power play. Oystrick's shot from up high hit a body in front and MacLean banged the rebound past Jones from the low slot.

The Monarchs responded quickly, scoring 31 seconds later to pull back within a goal. Czarnik drilled a one-timer past Pogge off a pass from behind the net from Brandon Kozun to make it 3-2 after two periods.

With his first pro goal in the books, Czarnik was also able to remove one large primate from his shoulders just like Legein.

“Getting my first goal in regulation was great, finally getting the monkey off my back,” Czarnik said. “It was a good team win. That was good having guys step up. We persevere. We get down (on the scoreboard), we don't get down on the bench. We keep coming.”

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