UTICA, N.Y. — The Manchester Monarchs will have a chance to lift the Calder Cup tonight.
The Monarchs, finishing off their final season in Manchester before moving to Ontario, Calif., scored four straight goals on Friday to break a 2-2 tie and beat the Utica Comets, 6-3, to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
A potential series-clinching Game 5 will be played tonight at 7 p.m. (WSMN 1590 AM) at the sold-out Utica Memorial Auditorium.
After suffering a relief loss in Game 3, rookie goaltender Patrik Bartosak, 22, made his first professional playoff start for Manchester on Friday. Bartosak finished with 22 saves in the win. Coach Mike Stothers said after the game that he is “very comfortable and confident in ‘Barto.’” AHL regular-season wins leader Jean-Francois Berube remained sidelined with a lower-body injury from Game 3.
After a dismal first-period effort on Wednesday, the Monarchs came out flying on Friday night, outshooting the Comets 5-0 in the opening two minutes of play. Sean Backman opened the scoring for the Monarchs, patiently beating Utica netminder Jacob Markstrom at 12:45.
Just 32 seconds later, Nic Dowd would make it 2-0 with an unassisted shot from the low slot, prompting Utica coach Travis Green to take an early time-out. The Comets responded less than a minute later, as defenseman Frank Corrado scored his first of the playoffs to cut the Monarchs’ lead to 2-1.
Utica’s Sven Baertschi tied the contest with a power play one-timer past Bartosak at 18:56.
The Monarchs regained the lead in the second period, as defenseman Colin Miller and center Nick Shore each converted power-play chances.
Then with just 10.3 seconds remaining in the middle frame, Dowd scored his second of the game with a highlight reel goal over the glove of Markstrom, giving Manchester a 5-2 lead.
In the third period, Swedish sensation Adrian Kempe quieted the sold-out Utica crowd of 3,835 by scoring the Monarchs’ sixth goal of the evening. Green then pulled Markstrom from Utica’s crease in favor of backup goaltender Joacim Eriksson. The Comets added a goal from Will Acton with just over two minutes remaining, but Manchester held on for a three-goal victory.
Monarchs right wing Brian O’Neill, the AHL’s regular season MVP, returned to the ice for Game 4. O’Neill had suffered an undisclosed injury in the first period of Wednesday’s Game 3. He finished Friday with one assist, as did each of his linemates, left wing Michael Mersch and center Jordan Weal.
Following the win, Stothers said his team’s dressing room wasn’t showing overconfidence, despite now being just one win away from winning it all.
“We’ve accomplished nothing yet,” said Stothers.
Stothers declined to provide an update on Berube’s injury status. UMass-Amherst product Steve Mastarlerz served as Bartosak’s backup on Friday.
A victory in tonight’s game would earn Manchester its first AHL championship.
If the Comets are victorious, the series would then shift back to the Granite State for Game 6 on Tuesday, as well as Game 7 Wednesday, if necessary.