Allen Lessels' On Hockey: 'Bittersweet' ending for Monarchs
MANCHESTER -- DANG those overtimes.
Three times the Manchester Monarchs, the No. 7 seed in the American Hockey League Eastern Conference, took No. 2 seed Springfield to overtime in their best-of-five quarterfinal series.
And all three times the Falcons perhaps got the bounce, and definitely made the play, that put the puck in the back of the net.
For that reason the Falcons - now the favorite to win the Calder Cup championship as the AHL's top team, at least in a historical perspective - are preparing this morning for the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Monarchs are cleaning out their locker room cubicles and management is conducting a full day of exit interviews.
The final blow came eight minutes and six seconds into the extra session on Saturday night at Verizon Wireless Arena when Nick Drazenovic came up with the puck in the neutral zone and broke into the Manchester end on a two-on-one with Michael Chaput.
Drazenovic chose to keep the puck and took a low shot that beat Monarchs goalie Martin Jones low to the glove side.
The Falcons, down 3-1 early in the second period thanks to a couple of Linden Vey goals, came back and won 4-3 to wrap up the series, three games to one.
"Obviously, you hate to lose," said Monarchs forward David Meckler. "Unfortunately, that's the way to do it, in a hard-battle game and a tough series where you lose a couple in overtime."
Each of the last three seasons, the Monarchs have been eliminated from the playoffs by the team that has gone on to win the Calder Cup.
All the pressure is on the Falcons now to continue that streak.
The Monarchs required a late-season charge to get into the playoffs and came up with a season's-best six-game win streak to do it.
A young team, the Monarchs dealt with the loss of players to callups and injury throughout the season.
They got Tyler Toffoli, the American Hockey League Rookie of the Year, back to help kickstart the late winning streak, but the Kings needed him back and he was gone for good prior to the last weekend of the regular season.
Saturday night, three-year captain Marc-Andre Cliche, who had suffered a foot injury in Thursday night's 2-1 win over the Falcons, skated in warmups and tried to go. But it was determined he would not be able to play.
The Falcons scored first on Saturday, but Colton Yellow Horn tied the game and Vey got his two, the first midway through the opening period and the next just over five minutes into the second, and Manchester owned the first two-goal lead of the series for anybody.
But that was all the Monarchs would get off goalie Curtis McElhinney and the Falcons got two past Jones before the second period was over to tie it at 3-3.
"You've got to give them a lot of credit," said Monarchs coach Mark Morris. "Their goalie was fabulous. So was ours. Their goalie made some saves on us that were A-plus chances. He's an experienced guy that plays at a high, high level and he showed it throughout the series."
Jones matched him save-for-save most of the way.
The goalies took the game to overtime and OT has not been kind to the Monarchs in recent years.
The last seven occasions they have played extra minutes in the playoffs, the Monarchs have lost.
That includes a 4-3 setback against Norfolk in the deciding Game 4 last season in the first round and three straight losses to Binghamton in the 2011 Atlantic Division semifinals in 2011. The Monarchs won Game 2 of that series in overtime, but all four of their losses were in OT.
"It's bittersweet," Morris said. "We came a long way with this bunch. I'm sure after we look at this and the sting dissipates, we'll see a lot of growth in these guys. We played well as a team and we hung in against a very good team and had a chance to win tonight."