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April 19. 2013 4:17AM

On Hockey: Monarchs need one final playoff push

THE MANCHESTER MONARCHS loaded up the bus on Thursday and hit the road for New York state and Pennsylvania and their final playoff push.

The Monarchs are tied with Hershey for ninth place in the American Hockey League and are two points behind the Norfolk Admirals and Connecticut Whale, who are tied for seventh. The top eight teams make the playoffs.

Manchester starts its three-game tour in Binghamton tonight and moves on to Wilkes-Barre Scranton on Saturday and then closes out the regular season at Hershey on Sunday at 5.

"We're confident, definitely," said Monarchs forward Brandon Kozun. "We're going into three pretty hard barns to play in and it's not going to be easy, but we have the guys in here to get it done. We'll see what we can do."

The challenge becomes a little harder given that the Monarchs have to get it done on the road. But here's the quirky thing about this weekend's schedule: The three teams they are competing against for basically two playoff spots - Portland is six points ahead of Manchester and needs a single point this weekend to clinch - are also away from home for the most part.

The Admirals play at Syracuse, Albany and Providence. The Whale, who have played one more game than the other contenders, are at Albany and Portland and then are off Sunday. Hershey plays at Adirondack and Binghamton and wraps up with the Monarchs at home.

The Monarchs needed to win to get into the playoffs at the end of last season and did.

They won three games in three days at home last weekend and have won their last four overall.

"That's our plan, to chip away and chip away and so far we've had success at it," said coach Mark Morris.

Binghamton and Wilkes-Barre have both clinched their playoff spots. The Monarchs beat Binghamton 4-0 way back on Oct. 28 in Manchester in the only other meeting of the teams this season The Monarchs have lost the three games they've played against Wilkes-Barre and have won two of three against Hershey, including a 4-3 decision on Saturday at the Verizon.

The Monarchs are coming off a 3-0 win over Worcester on Sunday in which workhorse goalie Martin Jones made 32 saves for his fifth shutout of the season.

Jones, backed up now by rookie Ty Rimmer and with Peter Mannino out for the rest of the season, has started 27 of the last 28 Monarch games.

That's fine with him.

"It's great to be able to play a lot of games," Jones said. "It's a fun time of year to be playing. I'm looking forward to the weekend and hopefully we'll have three more big wins."

It's working out all right for Morris, too.

"I think it's a confidence issue," the coach said. "A goalie is obviously a big part of your success and he's playing his best hockey right now, which is a good sign. You sit a little taller on the bench and the mood of the team has been great knowing he's there for us when we need him."

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