MANCHESTER — The Manchester Monarchs jumped on the Worcester Sharks early, piled up the first-period goals and rode the fast start to a 5-1 win before 6,104 fans at Verizon Wireless Arena on Friday night.
The Monarchs got a pair of goals from red-hot forward Brian O’Neill and three assists from defenseman Colin Miller and won for the seventh time in their last eight games.
They clinched an American Hockey League playoff spot with eight games to go in the regular season, starting tonight against the Portland Pirates in Lewiston, Maine.
“We took advantage of the opportunities we had when we had guys in position,” said coach Mark Morris. “We skated real hard and checked real hard in the first and forced some turnovers and that was probably the big reason we made the most of our chances. It’s good to get a start where you’re not stressed out the whole game.”
How dominant was the home team? Monarchs fans had earned the free fries that come with every four-goal performance before the first 20 minutes were over.
Miller assisted on the first three scores and the Monarchs were up 4-0 when the period ended.
James Livingston, a Shark when the month started, tipped in a Jeff Schultz shot from the point to get things going just 1:21 into the game. The Los Angeles Kings acquired Livingston from the San Jose Sharks on March 5 for a conditional seventh-round selection in the 2016 NHL Draft.
O’Neill, just out of the penalty box, took a pass on the right boards from Miller and set up Hunter Bishop coming down the middle of the ice for 2-0 at 9:18.
Scott Sabourin was out front and turned and put a soft shot along the ice that Steve Quailer deflected past Harri Sateri to make it 3-0 with 5:05 left in the period.
O’Neill scored on the power play for 4-0 with 1:14 left in the period.
After a scoreless second period, the Sharks finally got on the board with a goal from Dylan DeMelo at the 3:36 mark of the third period.
The Monarchs quickly pushed the lead back to four goals on O’Neill’s second goal of the night at 6:40.
“We’re getting lot of contributions,” Morris said. “The O’Neill line especially had been unbelievable. Those guys bring so much energy.
They have the puck on their stick a lot. They skate hard and they check hard and they’re a big reason why we get games started on the right foot.”
O’Neill skates the right wing with Sean Backman at center and Jordan Weal on the left.
O’Neill has 10 goals, including a couple of hat tricks, in the team’s last eight games.
J.F. Berube made 27 saves for the win.
Sateri had 21 saves for Worcester.