Four regular-season games to play and head coach Mark Morris is sensing something special about his Monarchs.
“The response we showed tells me we have the character on this team to do some special things if we want it bad enough,” said Morris after Manchester, behind red-hot center Jordan Weal, skated to a 5-2 victory over the Worcester Sharks at the DCU Center Sunday.
Weal scored his 22nd season goal at 17:21 of the third period to give the Monarchs a 3-2 advantage. Weal had three goals in Manchester’s 4-3 overtime win over Portland Saturday at Verizon Wireless Arena.
The two weekend wins allowed the Atlantic Division-leading Monarchs (45-19-2-6, 98 points) to pull four points ahead of idle Northeast-Division leading Springfield (44-21-1-5, 94 points) for first place in the Eastern Conference.
Entering the final two weeks of the regular season, Manchester has four games to play, two each against Portland and Providence. Springfield has five games left, including two home games next weekend against Portland and Hershey. The Falcons close the year on the road against Bridgeport, Hartford and Albany.
On Saturday, Manchester rallied from a 3-1 deficit. Sunday, the Sharks held a 2-1 lead before Manchester answered with four straight goals. The last two goals Sunday were empty netters in the final minute. Defenseman Brayden McNabb, who scored Manchester’s first goal at 6:16 of the first period, tallied his ninth season goal at 19:07.
In the final three seconds, right wing Sean Backman, who tallied the game-winning goal in overtime Saturday, became the first Monarchs’ player in franchise history to be awarded a goal at 19:57 of the third period. He picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and broke into the Sharks’ zone all alone. Before he could deposit the puck into the empty net, a Sharks’ defender interfered and tripped up Backman. The referee awarded the goal to Backman due to the infraction, preventing the Monarchs’ player from shooting into the open net.
The two comeback wins for Manchester this weekend drew some inspiring words from the head coach.
“I’m hoping this game in Worcester leaves an indelible mark on this season and the careers of the guys playing for us here in Manchester,” said Morris. “Finding the resolve and the consistent compete level was painfully evident after relinquishing an early lead. Our team responded and met the challenge with a big third period.”
The Monarchs tied the game at 2-2 with a shorthanded goal by defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk, his eighth season goal at 12:06 of the second period.
“The guys were able to find the focus necessary to right the ship and play the way we are capable of playing,” said Morris. “Patrik Bartosak (30 saves) had another solid performance in net and our penalty killers (the Sharks were 0-for-5 on power play) came up big at key moments. With four games to go in our regular season, it’s important we continue to improve all aspects of our game.”
The Monarchs travel to the Androscoggin Bank Colisee to face off with the Portland Pirates on Wednesday at 7 p.m.