After 60-plus minutes of tight hockey, it was a surprise to see Friday night's Game 6 of the Atlantic Division Final between the Manchester Monarchs and Worcester Sharks end on a perfectly executed give-and-go.
But it happened, and the 2-1 overtime victory propelled the Monarchs past the Sharks and into the AHL's Eastern Conference Final for just the second time in team history. There, Manchester will face the Hershey Bears, the defending Calder Cup champion.
To get there, the Monarchs weathered the furious play of the Sharks early and mounted repeated charges of their own until Viatcheslav Voynov scored just 1:55 into overtime.
Bud Holloway brought the puck into the Worcester zone and it came of his stick to Voynov as the defenseman rushed past the blue line. Voynov sent a pass across the ice to Andrei Loktionov, who drew the full attention of goalie Alex Stalock.
Loktionov sent a pass back to Voynov, who had no trouble sending the puck into the empty net in front of him for his first goal of the playoffs.
"It was a beautiful play," Manchester coach Mark Morris said. "I’m glad it didn’t go much longer. I think that both teams were dragging. It was a hard-fought affair. I’m just glad it’s other with because there wasn’t much more in the tank."
That, according to Morris, may have been how his team was able to get an opportunity to score when that had been hard to come by for both teams.
"Anything can happen late in a hockey game," he said. "When the legs go, the mind goes. That’s when guys are most vulnerable and it’s true in any physical sport, where you just get tired and you stop thinking. As soon as the legs go, mentally, you just kind of lose it.
"Slava (Voynov) has an offensive part to his game and it couldn’t happen at a better time. It’s nice to see him get some accolades. He’s been on the power play most of the year, and most of the goals he gets are slappers from the blue line. He jumped into the play and finished."
Worcester started the scoring just 1:45 into the game, when a shot by Ryan Vesce hit Manchester defenseman Andrew Campbell and eluded goalie Jonathan Bernier for a 1-0 lead.
But that was all the Sharks could get against Bernier, who made 28 saves and helped stave off the Worcester attack while it was outshooting Manchester, 17-7, for the first half of the game.
The Monarchs finally got on the board at 9:06 of the second, when Gabe Gauthier scored on the power play. Gauthier had the puck on the goal line to the left of Stalock, and threw it toward the goal. The puck trickled through to tie the game at 1.
Manchester outshot Worcester 20-12 the rest of the way, and had a handful of opportunities that just missed, including a shot by John Zeiler that clanged off the post with 6:20 left in regulation.
There was some bad mixed in with the good, as Manchester's Marc-Andre Cliche left the game midway through the first period with an injury and did not return. Cliche had to be helped from the ice and appeared to favor his right leg.
"Chances are he won’t be back for the rest of this season," Morris said. "It’s tough for a guy who has been through so many injuries, and to see it happen this late when we’re right there, in the heat of battle. This is when he really excels. It’s unfortunate."
The Monarchs will travel to Hershey for Game 1 and 2 of the conference finals. The best-of-seven series starts on May 12 at 7 p.m., with Game 2 scheduled for May 15.
The teams will move to Manchester for Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary). Game 3 and 4 will be May 17 and 18 at the Verizon Wireless Arena.