Backs to the wall, the Manchester Monarchs will look to their big brothers out west for inspiration.
The top-seeded Monarchs trail No. 8 Norfolk 2-1 in their best-of-five AHL playoff series. Game 4 is set for tonight at 7:30 in Norfolk. Game 5, if needed, will be Saturday night in Norfolk as well.
Manchester’s NHL parent club, the Los Angeles Kings, just completed a rare comeback feat by winning their best-of-seven series against San Jose after trailing 3-0 thanks to players who could be in Manchester right now like Tyler Toffoli (three goals, two assists in the series).
“I would hope that we can take a page out of their book. If that doesn’t inspire them I don’t know what will,” said Monarchs head coach Mark Morris. “We’re still in it and the biggest difference being experience and the fact that some of our finishers are playing in the NHL right now. I think we have to use that as motivation. Our guys are familiar with many of the guys on the (Kings) and that’s quite a commendable feat to come back from three down. We’re a bounce or two away from being up on these guys.”
Wednesday’s Game 3 was a goalie duel between Monarchs rookie J.F. Berube and Admirals netminder John Gibson. Norfolk escaped with a 1-0 overtime win. Berube was good in the game, but Gibson was even better and Morris said the focus will be on making him uncomfortable tonight.
“Gibson, we couldn’t find a way to beat him. I think we had 40 chances and they had 28. We need to create more net traffic and bury our chances when we get them,” Morris said. “There were a lot of pucks that he saw. I think we were too perimeter (with our shots). We’ve got to take more pucks to the net and create more chaos in and around the scoring areas.”
Morris said that the game-winner for Norfolk came on a brief defensive lapse that the Admirals took advantage of.
“On the defensive side, there were too many breakdowns,” Morris said. “I thought we cheated a bit and gave them some good looks at our net. At this stage of the year you’ve got to be better defenders.”
The hockey gods have not been smiling on the Monarchs as of late. Leading scorer Brian O’Neill was lost for two months to a leg injury at the end of the regular season. Manchester then had to essentially give up its home ice advantage to Norfolk when the Admirals’ building was unavailable, forcing the series to start in Manchester and end in Virginia.
And then on Wednesday, the Monarchs had two would-be goals waived off by the officials.
“I think a lot of it is experience or inexperience, however you want to look at it. You have to find ways to endure close calls. We had two goals called back. That was a little deflating,” Morris said. “You can look at them on video and they could have gone either way. The breaks obviously have been against us. We weren’t able to capitalize later in the game. Those would have been two pretty instrumental goals in swaying the outcome of the game.”
Los Angeles was able to climb back into its series with San Jose and rolled off four straight wins. Manchester needs just two or the season is over.