Monarchs clinch division, eye conference crown
MANCHESTER – The 8,915 fans in attendance seemed to appreciate "Fan Appreciation Night" at Verizon Wireless Arena Saturday night.
That's because the Manchester Monarchs blanked Portland 4-0 to lock up first place in the Atlantic Division. The game was also filled with fights, most of which went Manchester's way and got the crowd loud and rowdy.
Manchester improved to 47-19-8 for 102 points. Second place team St. John's (43-23-7 for 93) lost at home to Hartford and can no longer overtake the Monarchs, who play at Providence Sunday at 3:05 p.m.
The Monarchs can secure first place (and home ice advantage to the conference finals) in the Eastern Conference with one more win in their final two games to keep Springfield at bay.
Manchester scored three power-play goals and rookie goalie J.F. Berube made 23 saves for the shutout. Portland (24-38-11) was shut out for the second consecutive game by the Monarchs. Another rookie goalie, Patrik Bartosak, posted the zero against Portland Wednesday.
The Monarchs took advantage of a five-on-three power play to score the first goal of the game at 7:22 of the first period. Linden Vey's shot from the high slot hit a Portland defender in front of the net and popped in the air. Goalie Louis Domingue never saw the puck as it flipped in behind him and into the cage.
Defensemen Vinny LoVerde and Andrew Bodnarchuk assisted on the first Vey goal and that trio connected again for another extra-man tally in the second period at 9:11.
LoVerde made a slap-pass from the high slot to Bodnarchuk deep on the right side and Bodnarchuk made a quick pass across the top of the crease to Vey on the left for a one-timer past Domingue.
The Monarchs pushed the lead to 3-0 at 16:41 of the second on Jordan Weal's 23rd goal of the season. Once again it was precision passing resulting in the goal as Brian O'Neill fed LoVerde for another pass to Weal, who sniped from the left circle to beat Domingue glove-side.
The highlight of the third period was a titanic tussle between Manchester's Andy Andreoff and Portland's Darian Dziurzynski with 13:27 remaining. The fans had been giving Dziurzynski a healthy dose of boos whenever they could after Dziurzysnki fought Scott Sabourin in the second period and landed several punches while Sabourin was on the ice.
In the showdown, Andreoff got the better of Dzuirzynski, throwing and landing a fusillade of punches that got the crowd on its collective feet and sent Dzuirzynski to the ice.
O'Neill then engaged in a rare fight, tangling with Pirate Brett Hextall with 7:06 remaining. Hextall had the edge in the fight and O'Neill had to leave the ice for the locker room with an apparent leg injury.
Manchester would net its fourth goal shortly thereafter when defenseman Brayden McNabb scored a power-play goal on a shot through traffic from the slot at 13:34 to make it 4-0.
The fireworks were far from over, however. With 3:28 to go, Bodnarchuk fought Brendan Shinnimin and the brawl left Shinnimin on the ice in pain and needing medical attention. During the pause in action, Dzuirzynski challenged the Monarchs bench.
When the officials cleared the front of the Manchester bench, Sabourin squared off with Dzuirzynski again in the Portland end of the ice, getting in some good shots in a decisive victory. With less than 5:00 remaining, Sabourin's night was over so he went to the locker room, accepting high-fives from the fans above the tunnel runway.
The only thing left was to close out the win. Portland skated a power play over the remainder of the game, but could not break through on Berube.