Berube holds fort as Monarchs win playoff opener
MANCHESTER — Rookie goaltender J.F. Berube made 30 saves to backstop the Manchester Monarchs to a 2-0 win over Norfolk in Game 1 of their first round AHL playoff series in front of 6,623 fans at Verizon Wireless Arena Friday night.
Game 2 of the best-of-five series will be tonight at 7 p.m. at the Verizon. The series will shift to Norfolk for the final games of the series beginning Wednesday with Game 3.
"They're a good team and they gave us all we could handle," said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. "I thought Berube played very well for us and he was a big reason there was a goose egg on our side. Kudos to him."
Berube held tough through the third period as the Monarchs clung to a 1-0 lead. Manchester killed 43 seconds of five-on-three power play time early in the third and got an insurance goal late to put the game away.
Zach O'Brien made it 2-0 with 1:20 remaining in the game, slipping the puck five-hole on John Gibson after Andy Andreoff curled above the left circle and passed the puck to O'Brien on the wing.
Norfolk pulled Gibson for the extra attacker, but Manchester was able to close out the game and notch the first win of the series.
"I thought our guys competed hard. For a lot of those guys it's the first time they've experienced pro hockey in the playoff mode," Morris said. "It may not have been the prettiest, but it was a win nonetheless and a win at home."
It was Berube's first playoff game and came with the bonus of his first playoff shutout.
"It's a short series, best of five and that first game is really important to set up the next few games. We played good enough to get out with the win," Berube said. "The bottom line, I just wanted to give a chance to my team to win and in the playoffs all that matters is the win."
Manchester led 1-0 after one period on a goal from Sean Backman. Michael Mersch chipped the puck off the boards and chased it down on the left wing side, getting to it deep in the zone and sending a pass to Backman on the slot for a deflection off a defender and over Gibson's shoulder and in.
"It was a good play by Mersch there," Backman said. "I went hard to the net and kind of back-doored the D. It hit the D's stick and kind of ramped up behind him."
That goal would prove to be enough to give Manchester a 1-0 series lead, though Morris said there will be some things to work on for Game 2.
"I thought we were a little loose in the first part of the game. We gave them some point-blank shots in the high slot and we've got to clean that up. I also thought we could do a better job of picking up late men. I thought we were a little dozy and puck-focused," Morris said. "But again, you can't be too picky. You've got to build on the good things, too, and try and shore up some of those hiccups along the way."