NORFOLK, VA ? The Manchester Monarchs comeback came up one goal short as they fell to the Norfolk Admirals, 4-3, in front of 4,318 fans at the Norfolk Scope on Friday night.
Manchester (17-17-0-5, 39 points) is ranked fifth in the Atlantic Division. Norfolk (15-19-1-4, 35 points) is in sixth place in the East Division.
"It was a real physical affair with lots of hits and lots of fights," said Head Coach Mark Morris. "They scored on the opening draw so we were playing catch-up from the beginning. Looking back, we need more of our top end guys to come out of the gate quicker."
At 4:10 of the third period, center Bracken Kearns stole the puck from defenseman Viatcheslav Voynov in neutral territory and scored his seventh goal of the season. Kearns carried the puck into the Monarchs zone after stripping it from Voynov and then snapped a wrist shot toward the net. The puck deflected off of defenseman Andrew Campbell's stick and bounced off the end boards. Kearns picked up his own rebound and flipped the biscuit over goaltender Jonathan Bernier's right shoulder to give the Admirals a 4-2 lead.
The Admirals scored early and often to give themselves a 3-0 lead in the first 21 minutes of the game. Center Zenon Konopka put his eighth goal on the scoreboard just eight seconds into the game. The Admirals won the opening face-off and right wing Brandon Bochenski carried the puck into the Monarchs zone. At the right face-off circle, Bochenski snapped the puck toward the net. Right wing Grant Potulny got his stick on the puck but it was Konopka that was able to chip it past Bernier for the early 1-0 advantage.
Potulny connected for a power play tally at 17:06 of the opening frame. Center Chris Gratton collected the puck in the right corner of the Monarchs zone with a pass from defenseman Mike Lundin. Gratton then found Potulny on the inside edge of the right face-off circle for a wrist shot that found the back of the net for his sixth goal of the season.
Konopka scored another quick goal at the beginning of the second period to give the Admirals a 3-0 lead. On the power play, right wing Steve Downie sent the puck to Bochenski along the end line to the left of Bernier. For his second assist of the night, Bochenski slid the puck through the slot to Konopka for the one-timer into the open cage at the 50-second mark of the middle frame.
The Monarchs began their comeback with left wing Matt Moulson's power play goal at 15:09 of the second period. Center Justin Azevedo gained control of the puck along the left wing boards in the Admirals zone. In his first game back after recovering from a foot injury, Azevedo slid a backhand pass to Moulson between the hash marks. Moulson fired a slap shot into the top left corner of the Admirals net for his fifth tally of the season.
Right wing Ryan Murphy brought the Monarchs to within one goal with his fourth tally of the season at 1:42 of the final stanza. Center Dusty Collins slid the puck to Murphy behind Norfolk's cage. Murphy passed the saucer to center Marty Murray in the right face-off circle and then the right wing slipped around the net to the left doorstep. With Murphy in place, Murray sent the puck from the circle to the left side of the net for the quick one-timer that beat Admirals goaltender Mike McKenna.
Admirals' left wing Justin Keller's penalty shot at 10:42 of the third period missed high and wide to the right.
The Monarchs picked up their second power play goal of the night at 13:57 of the final frame. Azevedo gave the puck to Moulson in the right corner of the Admirals zone. Moulson and right wing Trevor Lewis played catch with several back and forth passes in the right corner of the zone. Lewis then broke toward the net, received the final pass from Moulson and snapped a shot that squeaked through the right post and McKenna to bring the score to the 4-3 final with his team-leading 10th goal of the season.
"We battled back but our efforts were too little, too late" said Morris. "We made a valiant effort to come back but we turned the puck over a couple of inopportune times and it cost us."
Bernier (10-10-3) took his 10th loss of the season with 23 saves on 27 shots. McKenna (7-11-4) earned his seventh victory of the season stopping 26-of-29 shots.
The teams battled with five fights in the game. Manchester collected 39 penalty minutes and Norfolk compiled 49 minutes.
Manchester went 2-for-6 on the power play. Norfolk was also 2-for-6 with the man advantage.