MANCHESTER, N.H. – The Manchester Monarchs are heading to the playoffs, but they certainly are not heading there the way they’d like to go.
In their final home game of the 2017-’18 regular season, Manchester fell 3-2 to the Worcester Railers, a team that may be their playoff foe come next week.
Worcester’s Dylan Willick and Dwyer Tschantz grabbed the game’s first goals via redirected shots 2:51 and 15:00 into the first period respectively, as the Monarchs continued their general trend of poor starts in recent months.
However, they wouldn’t go into the first intermission scoreless, with a slashing call on Worcester’s Matt Lane giving Manchester the boost they needed.
Kevin Morris gave Manchester a redirection goal of their own just seconds into the power play and Matt Schmalz’ breakaway gave him the perfect position for a top shelf wrister a few seconds after the Morris goal.
Schmalz lit the red light again midway through the second period, but it would be a false alarm as referee Chris Pontes and his crew believed the puck did not go fully beyond the goal line as it richocheted off the post.
There would be a few additional close calls throughout the second period, but the second intermission began not with another score, but a brawl between Worcester’s Connor Doherty and Manchester’s Craig Wyszomirski.
Wyszomirski taking down Doherty would be the last thing Monarchs fans got to cheer.
Despite recording almost twice as many shots in the last two periods, Manchester could just not break through Worcester’s defense.
It looked like the stalemate might continue into overtime until T.J Syner broke the deadlock for the Railers, wristing a knuckler from the right point past the glove of Manchester netminder Charles Williams.
Manchester head coach Rich Seeley was happy with the momentum rebound after not getting a high-quality start from his squad.
But in the end, the stretch that tied up the contest proved to be an exception to the game’s general run of play: a tense, grinding affair that just seemed to force the Monarchs into a quagmire.
In short, Seeley described it as the Monarchs “just playing not to lose.”
“Our group just didn’t turn it on and say ‘we’re going to win this game, no matter what.’”, said Seeley. “I saw us do some good things, we had plenty of chances, but that urgency, the attention to details wasn’t there to find success. And surely enough when you’re not playing on your toes or when you’re tentative, a wrister from the point tip, and it’s in the back of the net.”
Saturday’s loss was the sixth in a row for Manchester, completing the erasure of what had seemed like an insurmountable lead in the ECHL North Division as recently as early March.
Manchester plays Worcester again on Sunday at 3:05 p.m., this time in Worcester in the 15th and final time this regular season.
If Adirondack defeats Brampton on Sunday, they will be division champions and face Worcester in the first round of the playoffs.
But if Adirondack loses, then Manchester could take the division crown either with a win, or by avoiding a loss in regulation thanks to their tiebreaker advantage over Adirondack.
For Seeley, none of that matters. In his eyes, the only focus for Manchester is on Worcester until Monday when everything resets.
“We need to be better, we need to pay a little bit more attention to detail and we need to find a way,” he said. “There’s only way though it and you’re going to have to work. You can’t point fingers or peripherals or referees or linesmen or forwards or defensemen or goaltenders, it’s a group thing. We just have to come through and find a way to get two points from (Worcester.)”