Left wing Mark Bell scored a shorthanded breakaway goal with 21 seconds remaining in the game to edge the Hartford Wolf Pack past the Manchester Monarchs, 4-3, in front of 6,017 fans at the Verizon Wireless Arena on Wednesday night.
Manchester (36-34-0-8, 80 points) is in fifth place in the Atlantic Division. Hartford (45-27-3-3, 96 points) is in first place in the Atlantic Division.
Mathematically the Monarchs are still in the hunt for a playoff position. The Portland Pirates (37-31-3-7, 84 points) lost to the Worcester Sharks (41-34-1-2, 85 points) on Wednesday night in a 2-1 decision at the DCU Center. In order for the Monarchs to clinch fourth place and the final playoff spot, Manchester will have to win their two remaining games and Portland will have to lose their last two games. Manchester plays Worcester on Friday and Portland on Saturday.
"Early on in the game, it looked as though we were going to take the game over," said Monarchs Head Coach Mark Morris. "Even though they scored first, we had the momentum until their tying goal. We turned the puck over and that was that."
Left wing Patrick Rissmiller and Bell skated down the ice with only Monarchs defenseman Thomas Hickey standing in their way. Rissmiller skated down the right wing with Bell coming down the center of the Monarchs zone. Rissmiller passed the puck over to Bell for the one-timer beating Monarchs goaltender Jonathan Bernier for the game winning goal at 19:39 of the final period. The goal was Bell's 18th of the season.
The Wolf Pack bit first with Rissmiller's 13 goal of the season at 7:56 of the opening period. Bell carried the puck down the left wing and into the face-off circle. A Monarchs defender poke checked the puck away but Rissmiller was trailing the winger and picked up the loose biscuit. Cutting toward the net, Rissmiller side-stepped a defender and flipped a backhander over Bernier. Center Brock McBride assisted on the first goal of the game.
It didn't take long for Manchester to rebound as center Gabe Gauthier tallied his 11th of the season at 9:20 of the first frame as the Monarchs skated with the man advantage. Center Justin Azevedo cycled the puck down low to right wing David Meckler in the left corner. Meckler stick handled the puck and sent a pass to Gauthier at the bottom inside corner of the left face-off circle for the one-timer that beat netminder Matt Zaba five-hole.
Meckler sent his team to the locker room for the first intermission with a one-goal advantage. Left wing Vladimir Dravecky stripped the puck away from the Wolf Pack defenseman to the left of the net. Pivoting toward the net, Dravecky slid the puck out to the left side of the slot for Meckler to rip a one-timer past Zaba for his 14th goal of the season at 18:53 of the first period.
Center Mike Ouellette evened the game at 2-2 with his 15th goal of the season at 8:33 of the middle stanza. Defenseman Mike Sauer fired a shot on net but Bernier was square to the puck at the top of the crease for the save. Ouellette picked up the rebound, side-stepped the goaltender and then flipped it into the net. Defenseman David Stich assisted on the tally.
Manchester took their lead back at 9:51 of the second period with their second power play goal of the game. Hickey carried the puck from the left point toward the center point. As he reached the center, left wing Matt Moulson stripped the puck from Hickey and snapped a wrist shot into the top left corner of the net. Defenseman Tom Preissing assisted on Moulson's team leading 19th goal of the season.
A miscue by Monarchs defenseman Joe Piskula locked the teams at 3-3 at the 13:11 mark of the middle frame. Piskula controlled the puck in the Monarchs zone and skated from the right face-off circle toward the left circle. As he reached the top of his crease, he went to pass the puck to his defensive partner Drew Bagnall, he fanned on the puck and it trickled between Bernier's legs and into the net. The goal was awarded to the last Wolf Pack player to touch the puck, center Artem Anisimov was credited with his 36th goal of the season.
"(Hartford) played a skeleton lineup. If we were going to beat them, tonight was the night," said Morris.
Bernier (22-24-4) took his 24th loss of the season with 29 saves on 33 shots. Zaba (24-10-0) earned his 24th win of the season stopping 28 shots.
Manchester went 2-for-5 on the power play. Hartford was 0-for-3 with the man advantage.