Comets Drop Finals Opener
by Mark Caswell, Jr.Jun 6, 2015
An overtime goal review couldn’t help the Comets as they lost 3-2 in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals to the Manchester Monarchs on Saturday night at the Verizon Wireless Arena. Michael Mersch’s three-point (2-1-3) improved the Monarchs record to 2-0 in postseason overtime games, and sank the Comets record to 3-4.
“We almost stole one from them,” said Comets forward Cory COnacher. “We have to play a lot better if we’re going to take this series.”
Both Conacher (1-0-1) and Sven Baertschi (1-0-1) scored their fourth goals in five games for the Comets. Jacob Markstrom was named the third star of the game after he stopped 34 of the 37 shots the Monarchs unleashed on him over the course of three plus periods.
It wasn’t until the tail end of the first period when things started to ramp up for the Calder Cup finalists when Manchester’s own Brian O’Neill spiked a wild puck past the far side of Markstrom as he was fighting off unwanted company in front of the crease. O’Neill’s 10th goal of the postseason gave the Monarchs the 1-0 lead with just four minutes remaining in the period.
A goaltender interference penalty taken 48 seconds later by Justin Auger gave the Comets the spark they needed as Cal O’Reilly set up Alexandre Grenier with the puck to the left of Jean-Francois Berube’s net. Grenier saw the play develop further once Baertschi appeared to the right of the slot and with a quick feed across the paint, Baertschi slapped it past the netminder for the power-play goal and the equalizer at 17:01.
Despite being outshot 12-3 in the second stanza, the Comets were able to keep the game tied at 1-1.
The scoring resumed 2:23 into the third right as the Comets were about to kill off a penalty taken by defensemen Peter Andersson. A pass from Nick Shore at the left dot did the Comets in as Michael Mersch met the puck at the right post and popped it in for the power-play goal and the 2-1 lead.
Like clockwork, the Comets answered back again as Cory Conacher received a pass from Adam Clendening and snapped a shot off from just above the right circle. The puck was too quick for Berube as the goaltender slid across the crease with his glove hand just missing it by inches. Andersson received the secondary assist on the Comets second game-tying goal.
With no victor after three periods, the Comets initiated their seventh overtime game of the postseason but were unable to capitalize on their chances as Mersch found his second of the night just past the four minute mark into the first overtime period. The goal stood after the officials went to video review to see if the net came off its moorings before crossing the goal line.
The Monarchs outshot Utica 37-17 in the game. Both teams scored on the power play with Utica going 1-for-3 on the night, and the Monarchs 1-for-4.
The Monarchs and Utica will be right back it tomorrow night as the Utica Comets visit the Verizon Wireless Arena for Game 2 of the Calder Cup Finals. Puck drop is slated for 5p.m.
Three Stars: 1. MCH– Michael Mersch (2 Goals, 1 Assist) 2. MCH – Brian O’Neill (1 Goal, 1 Assist) 3. UTI – Jacob Markstrom (34 Saves)
Quest for the Calder: This is what it all comes down to. The Utica Comets have fought tirelessly through a 76-game regular season, and three rounds of the playoffs to get to the point where they are today. You can watch all the Calder Cup Finals action for FREE at AHLLive.com.
Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals begins tonight at 6 p.m. in the first postseason series that the Comets will not have home-ice advantage due to the tremendous regular season the Manchester Monarchs had with a record of 50-17-6-3 and 109 points, which was good enough for the league best.
How it Happened: Both the Monarchs and the Comets were pushed to the limits by their first round opponents. In a five-game series with the Portland Pirates, Manchester won Games 1, 2, and 5. The Wolves challenged the Comets, but Utica took Games 1, 3, and 5 in the series.
From there, Manchester was able to dominate in the last two rounds after punishing the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins in five games with victories in every game but Game 3 and swept the Hartford Wolf Pack in four in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Cardiac Comets were able to get the job done in six games in their Western Conference Semifinals against the Griffins. Utica was pushed to the brink by the Oklahoma City Barons in the Quarterfinals,. but Jacob Markstrom secured the series for the Comets with the first recorded 1-0 shutout in a Game 7 in the AHL since 1953.
You’re the Best Around: Manchester and Utica both won their respective conferences en route to #1 seed honors. This will mark the first Calder Cup Finals that pits the two top-seeded teams against each other since the 2000 Finals where Hartford defeated the Rochester Americans in 6 games.
Enter Sandman: On Tuesday night Markstrom shutout the Grand Rapids Griffins’ high-octane offense to eliminate them from the playoffs. It was his second shutout in as many elimination games. Back on May 20th, Markstrom posted a 35-save shutout in Game 7 to eliminate the Oklahoma City Barons.
The Swedish netminder owns a sparkling 1.87 goals against average, and a .931 goals against average through the course of the playoffs.
Helping Hand: Cal O’Reilly’s 15 assists leads all players in the 2015 Calder Cup playoffs. He finished the season with 51 assists in 76 games, and trailed only Brian O’Neill of the Manchester Monarchs who had 58 assists.
Shooting Gallery:The top three shooters in this year’s postseason can be found on both teams that will be performing in the Finals. Manchester’s Michael Mersch has the most shots in the AHL in 13 games this postseason with a total of 49. Both of the Comets rookies, Hunter Shinkaruk and Brendan Gaunce sit in second and third place with 40 and 38 shots respectively.
Lion’s Share of Points: The Monarchs high-scoring ways of the regular season have carried over to the playoffs. Jordan Weal (19), Michael Mersch (18), and MVP Brian O’Neill (17) make up three of the top four point-scorers in the playoffs. In the regular season, O’Neill (22-58-80) and Weal (20-49-69) finished first and third, respectively, in the American Hockey League in scoring.
The Immoveable Force vs The Unstoppable Object: The Comets finished the regular season with the most road points (50) in the American Hockey League, while the Monarchs finished with the most home points (61). That trend has continued in the playoffs with the Monarchs owning a perfect 7-0 record at home, and the Comets possessing the best road record (5-3) in the playoffs.
Hot Coco: Cory Conacher scored just once during the Comets first 14 playoff games. The lone goal came against the Chicago Wolves in Game 3 of the Conference Quarterfinals. “Coco” has heated up as of late, and has scored in three of the past four games, including the game-winning goal, and series-clinching goal, in Game 6 against Grand Rapids.
The 25-year old former AHL Most Valuable Player of the year and Rookie of the Year winner, was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks at the Trade Deadline in exchange for Dustin Jeffrey. He skated in 20 games for the Comets, and recorded 16 points (7-9-16).
Complete Coverage: Can’t listen to Brendan Burke or watch the game on AHL Live? No problem! Just follow us on @UticaComets or @CometsInGame on Twitter and we’ve got you covered with live up to the minute updates and instant videos of all the Comets goals.
#BuiltForThisMoment: It’s your turn to show us how you celebrate during a Comets game, whether it’s at The AUD, on your couch or at the bar. Submit your videos by posting them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and including the hashtag #BuiltForThisMoment for a chance to have your video after the game concludes.
Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals gave us our last #BuiltForThisMoment.
Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AREoIdUqA_4
Another in Manch: With the Calder Cup Finals following a 2-3-2 series format, the Comets and the Monarchs will face eachother again less than 24 hours after the start of Game 1 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. Game 2 begins at 5 p.m. this Sunday before the series shifts to Utica for Games 3,4 and 5*.