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December 31. 2011 10:24PM

First-place Monarchs close year with 2-1 win over P-Bruins

MANCHESTER – The Manchester Monarchs closed the year on a good note and sent a season-high 9,665 fans home happy with a 2-1 win over Providence at Verizon Wireless Arena Saturday night.

Manchester improved to 21-12-2 for 44 points and jumped over St. John’s (19-7-5, 43) and back into first place in the Atlantic Division. The Monarchs are home Wednesday against Bridgeport (7 p.m.) before leaving for a two-game trip to St. John’s next weekend.

"Having a crowd like we had (Saturday), it was inspirational for our team and our organization to see the turnout that we had," Monarchs head coach Mark Morris said. "Thankfully, we were able to deliver so that they could enjoy the evening."

Manchester led 2-0 after two periods and Providence poured on the pressure in the third, cutting the deficit in half with a power-play goal at 8:24. Colby Cohen blasted a slap shot from the top of the left circle that beat Jeff Zatkoff low inside the far post.

The Bruins (14-18-3) continued to come in waves, but could not bury the equalizer. Zatkoff was solid all night, turning aside 25 shots, several of them high-quality bids.

"Having a crowd like this, especially coming back from (back-to-back road games) makes it easy to get up to play," said Zatkoff, who improved to 10-4-1. "We wanted to end the year with a win and we wanted to make sure we performed with a turnout like this."

The Bruins and Monarchs played five days prior and that game featured two fights in the first four seconds as Providence sought revenge for Manchester’s Cam Paddock elbowing Max Sauve in the previous meeting.

Bad blood remains and it didn’t take long for the first of the fights on Saturday as Chris Cloud tangled with Bruin Tyler Randell 3:29 into the game. Less than 2:00 later, Monarch Justin "J.J." Johnson battled Bobby Robins. Johnson scored the decision late, getting his left hand free to deliver three solid shots to send Robins down and end the fight.

With the fisticuffs out of the way it was time for some offense and the Monarchs delivered with two goals. Captain Marc-Andre Cliche struck at 9:23, collecting a loose puck in the slot and slinging it on net quickly to beat Anton Khudobin high.

"It was a bouncy puck and (Bruins defenseman Andrew) Bodnarchuk tipped it perfectly to me and it was flat and I just tried to fire it high," Cliche explained. "I got lucky and it went shelf."

Dwight King made it 2-0 at 18:04 of the first, backhanding a rebound into the cage from the doorstep. Defenseman Patrick Mullen recorded assists on both tallies.

There were no goals in the second period, but there was more of the rough stuff. After Johnson was hit from behind by Nathan McIver, Cliche jumped into the fray and Johnson came up swinging, leaving McIver with two angry Monarchs on him. Several other players joined in and Cloud eventually squared off with McIver for the third fight of the night.

"McIver was back in the lineup, we knew he was a big guy. It was only his second game so we knew he was going to be excited with the big crowd," Cliche said. "J.J. and Cloud stepped up to the plate and we have the guys for that."

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