With just three regular-season games remaining, the Manchester Monarchs still have a lot to play for.
The Monarchs will host Portland on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Arena for Fan Appreciation Night (the first 2,000 fans receive a free lunch bag) in the final home game of the regular slate.
Manchester then plays at Providence Sunday at 3:05 p.m. The season closes next Friday at Providence and the playoffs will begin the week of April 21.
The Monarchs (46-19-8 for 100 points) lead the AHL standings, but sewing up first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference are the goals at hand and the one-game-at-a-time approach is still the mantra.
“We’re just focused on playing Portland again,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “The score (a 5-0 win at Portland Wednesday) indicated that we won by five but I can assure that you if it weren’t for (rookie goalie Patrik) Bartosak being so sharp that the game could have been 5-5 in a heartbeat.”
Playing in his fourth game as a pro (and third consecutive start), Bartosak recorded his first AHL shutout. Other young players, including fellow rookie Michael Mersch (two goals Wednesday) and Steve Quailer (goals) also chipped in.
“I don’ think we can be too full of ourselves, but at the same time it’s nice to know we’re finding the back of the net,” Morris said. “It’s very encouraging that we’re getting contributions from a lot of different sources. It’s a good sign that everyone is sharing the hard duties and cashing in when they get their chances.”
As for Bartosak, he got his third straight start so that a banged-up J.F. Berube could get some rest before the playoffs.
“It was a good opportunity for us to test him and see what he could do,” Morris said. “At the same time, J.F. is nicked up a little bit. He could have played, but I figured a couple extra days would be better off for him. He’ll play (Saturday) and I know he’s raring to go.”
While Bartosak looks like the real deal, the next step for him will be getting the everyday routines down.
“I spoke with (goalie consultant) Kim Dillabaugh and I think everybody was impressed with his outing and the body of work that he’s shown so far,” Morris said. “We also need to reinforce that this is a process and learning how to win on a regular basis and how to prepare is another thing that young goalies need to learn. There is a daily routine of what you need to do to prepare for the next day and the next day and continue to keep that focus.”
The Monarchs need two points to win the Atlantic Division and hold off St. John’s. Some combination of four points between their own wins and Springfield (44-21-6 for 94 points) losses to claim the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference.
Manchester is hoping to get standout defenseman Vinny LoVerde back this weekend. He has missed the last couple weeks with an injury, but practiced this week and looks to be ready to go. “To get an infusion of energy and a guy that’s been such a great performer for us all season, that’s another thing we’re looking forward to,” Morris said. “He brings experience and a level of compete that is contagious.”