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March 27. 2014 8:17PM

Monarchs getting in playoff mindset


 

Just nine games remain in the regular season and the Manchester Monarchs are focused on finishing strong.

Manchester hosts Atlantic Division rival Worcester tonight at 7 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Arena and then plays at Portland (in Lewiston, Maine) Saturday at 7 p.m. The Monarchs sit atop the Eastern Conference at 42-17-8 for 92 points. The Monarchs could clinch a playoff spot this weekend.

"The thing that I really try to preach to these guys is 'where are we going to take it from here?'" said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "You can sit back and coast in or you can really turn it up and get yourself ready for the playoffs. Since we are a team that still has a lot of youth, we've got to keep our focus."

That focus means taking things in small increments.

"You can only control what's in front of you and don't look back too far but learn from it. Looking ahead, sometimes you can get yourself in trouble when you do that," Morris said. "Shift to shift, period to period and game to game."

The Sharks enter tonight's game at 31-29-3 for 66 points. Worcester sits 11 points out of a playoff spot, so desperation has set in. The Sharks are making a push and have gone 7-3-0 in their last 10.

"They're a good team. They made some changes in their personnel. Their chemistry right now is as good as I've seen it for a while," Morris said. "We have a lot of respect for their club. They get pretty solid goaltending from either goaltender we've faced."

While not officially eliminated, Portland would need a miracle to make the playoffs at 23-30-10 for 56 points. But as a division rival, the Pirates would love to play spoiler for Manchester's push for home ice advantage.

The Monarchs made one roster move this week, sending rookie goalie Mathias Niederberger back to Ontario, Calif., of the ECHL. Patrik Bartosak appears to be the main backup to J.F. Berube down the stretch, though Bartosak is an unknown commodity.

"I saw him at training camp so I really couldn't pass judgment on where he was at with his game," Morris said. "He has great numbers and a track record that is really solid coming out of junior. If need-be, the opportunity might arise where we could possibly see him."

Bartosak was 33-26-5 with a goals against average of 2.80 with Red Deer in the Western Hockey League.

But since the remaining weekends feature mostly two games in three nights (with one three-in-three), it's a safe bet that the Monarchs will ride Berube as they prep him for the grind of the playoffs.

iclark@unionleader.com


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