Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Antler Banter: Volume 23

This will be the last regular season edition of Antler Banter as the Manitoba Moose only have two games remaining on their schedule. We'll take a look at whether the Moose were able to gain a berth in the Calder Cup Playoffs, and some player movement that could potentially cripple the team in their last two regular season games, and further if the team has made the playoffs. All in all, this is the "make or break" edition of Antler Banter, so let's get to it! All of your current Manitoba Moose news and information is avaliable on the Moose website. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. Here is the last regular season edition of Hardcore Hockey!

The Marlies And The Playoffs

With the Marlies breathing down the Herd's necks, the Moose had to put together a solid series against Toronto if they wanted to make the playoffs and continue their pursuit of Abbotsford. Friday night saw Cory Schneider in the Moose nets while Toronto countered with James Reimer.

Kevin Clark continued his impressive debut with the Moose when he gave the visitors the early lead. Clark notched his second goal of the season when he wired home a wrist shot over a sprawled Reimer, and the Moose had the 1-0 lead at 17:16 of the first period.

Another rookie made an impact just a few minutes before the opening goal. Aaron Volpatti dropped the mitts with Phil Oreskovic, and showed why he led Brown University in penalty minutes during his career. After Oreskovic landed one solid punch, the larger Oreskovic essentially threw Volpatti to the ice before the fight even started, so we'll call this one a draw. Volpatti, however, showed that size doesn't matter when it comes to a good, old-fashioned brouhaha.

After one period of play, the Moose had the 1-0 lead, and led in shots with a 12-9 advantage.

Mario Bliznak added to the Moose lead 9:31 into the second period. Bliznak fired a quick shot on net that was stopped by Reimer, but the plucky centerman picked up the rebound and fired it past Reimer to make it 2-0. Bliznak's tenth goal of the season was the only goal of the period, and the Moose went into the second intermission with a two-goal lead. Bliznak, playing on the fourth line, really added a big goal in that second period, and we'd hear from him again shortly.

2:24 into the third period, "Super" Mario notched his second goal of the game. With Bliznak standing on the doorstep, he found the puck and popped the puck into the back of the net. Bliznak had his 11th goal of the season, and the Moose had the 3-0 lead.

With six minutes to play, Toronto head coach Dallas Eakins yanked Reimer for an extra attacker. With the man-advantage, Ben Ondrus ended Cory Schneider's shutout bid with a goal 4:05 to play. Ondrus' seventh of the season made it 3-1 in favour of the Moose.

With the net empty, the Moose couldn't muster another goal, but it didn't matter as they held the fort. At the final horn, Manitoba had secured the 3-1 victory. Manitoba improved to 37-32-5-1 on the season with the win.

On The Brink

Toronto's playoff lives rested on this game as Manitoba had opened up a sizable lead on the Marlies in the race for the final playoff spot in the North Division. Toronto basically had to win out and hope that Manitoba recorded no points in their remaining games. Cory Schneider went back to the nets for Manitoba, and Toronto went with James Reimer once again.

Manitoba struck first again in this game. Yan Stastny fed Jordan Schroeder in the slot, but his wrist shot was blocked by Toronto's Alex Foster. The puck flipped over top of Foster and landed in the slot area where Guillaume Desbiens swooped in. His backhander found its way through Reimer, and Manitoba was out to the 1-0 lead 11:39 into the game on Desbiens' 18th goal of the season.

There was no scoring through the second period, so we move to third period where a brutal defensive gaffe put Toronto on the board. A puck cleared from the Toronto zone ended up rolling past Brian Salcido as he backed up to center ice. I'm not sure if he was tired or if he simply assumed that Tim Brent wouldn't challenge as quickly as he did, but Salcido's lackluster defensive effort resulted in a Tim Brent breakaway on Schenider. Brent slid a low shot between Schneider's pads, and the Marlies tied the game at 1-1 on Brent's 11th goal of the season at 11:23.

Both Reimer and Schneider were unbeatable for the remainder of the third period and through overtime, so a shootout would decide this game.

Tim Brent would outduel Schneider, and Reimer solved Rosa's deke, so Toronto led 1-0 in the shootout after one round. Josh Engel scored for Toronto, while Jordan Schroeder put the puck high and wide on Reimer's glove side, and Toronto was out to a 2-0 lead. Greg Scott couldn't put the puck past Schneider, while Mike Keane ripped a wrist shot just under the crossbar for Manitoba, cutting Toronto's lead to 2-1. However, Josh Hamilton scored the winner in the fourth-round as his deke beat Schneider on the glove side, and Guillaume Desbiens couldn't solve Reimer.

Toronto captures the extra point in the 2-1 shootout win, but loses the battle for the playoffs. With the point, the Moose officially clinch a playoff spot. However, the shootout loss sends the team back to a 37-32-5-2 record.

Those Angry, Vicious Dogs

The Moose rolled down the highway to Hamilton for two games against the North Division-leading Bulldogs. This game would end the three-games-in-three-days run that the Moose were on, so it goes without saying that they were ripe for the picking. And they got picked off in a bad way. Daren Machesney took to the nets for Manitoba while Hamilton responded with Cedric Desjardins. This could be a potential first-round matchup in the Calder Cup Playoffs, so there was a lot of posturing to be done.

Andrew Conboy put the home team up by a goal midway through the first period. Conboy let a strong wrist shot go as he weaved through two Moose defenders at the left circle, and his shot found the far post past Machesney's glove, and the Bulldogs were out to the 1-0 lead 10:50 into the first period on Conboy's eighth goal of the season.

Both goalies held strong after that, and Hamilton went into the break up by one goal. Manitoba and Hamilton tied in shots at nine apiece, and it was good reflection of how evenly-matched these two teams were through the opening twenty minutes. The second period? Oi vay.

Blake Trotter added to Hamilton's lead in the second period. His 36th goal of the season at 5:33 made it 2-0 for Hamilton.

Tommy Maxwell got one back for Manitoba. Peter Olvecky raced in from the right point with the puck, and shoveled it across the crease where Maxwell met the puck. His quick shot beat Desjardins as he slid across the crease. Maxwell's second goal of the season cut the deficit to 2-1 at 6:32.

Once again, I'm not sure what Brian Salcido was thinking, but his play cost Manitoba another goal. Mike Glumac went outside on Salcido with the puck, and all Salcido had to do was angle Glumac towards the corner to break up the scoring chance. Instead, it appears that he tried to hip-check Glumac off the puck, and Glumac avoided the hit easily as Salcido put little effort into it. That mistake opened up a lane, and Glumac's backhanded pass was chipped past Machesney by David Desharnais who was standing on the doorstep. Desharnais' 27th goal of the season put Hamilton up 3-1 at 11:02.

Hamilton would add another goal at 15:40. The puck bounced behind the Moose net following a mad scramble in front of Machesney, and Dany Masse fed Desharnais along the right wing boards. Desharnais spotted Yannick Weber in the high slot, and hit him with a good pass that Weber one-timed to the back of the net. Weber's sixth of the season put Hamilton up 4-1.

46 seconds after that saw the Bulldogs add another goal. Shawn Belle raced down the right wing and got away a wrist shot that Machesney bobbled. The puck landed in front of him, and Hunter Bishop whacked the loose puck by the Moose goaltender for his first goal of the season. Hamilton had a 5-1 lead with 3:34 to play in the second.

Mercifully, the period ended, but Manitoba had been hurt in that period by some sloppy play. I'm not one to criticize players for their work, but can someone tell me why Brian Salcido is on the ice in critical situations? He carries a -13 rating. Sure, he brings a ton of offensive talent, but he needs to step up the defensive side of his game. Especially if Hamilton and Manitoba meet in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Just 1:36 into the third, and we had ourselves some rough stuff. Aaron Volpatti absolutely destroyed Yannick Weber with a monsterous hit along the end boards, and Weber appeared to be hurt as he laid on the ice. Mike Vernace jumped Volpatti from behind and began raining blows on the surprised Moose scrapper. However, Volpatti got himself together quickly, and threw a pile of punches that landed squarely in Vernace's mush. Vernace went down faster than a cold beer on a hot day from the barrage of rights that Volpatti landed, and the scrappy Volpatti earned a solid victory in this tilt.

The Moose notched another goal midway through the third period. With Trotter off for tripping, Yan Stastny raced down the right wing and got off a backhander that Desjardins handled. However, the rebound landed out in the slot where Guillaume Desbiens was standing, and the Moose forward chipped home a backhander that found the twine. Desbiens' powerplay marker made the game 5-2 at 10:40, and was his 19th goal of the season.

However, 22 seconds later saw the Bulldogs erase that goal. Trotter fed a streaking Yannick Weber down the right side. Weber looked to be in too deep to get away a good shot, but his high wrist shot from below the face-off dot found enough room on the short side over Machesney's shoulder, and the Bulldogs increased their lead to 6-2. Weber's seventh goal of the season came at 11:02.

The horn at the end of regulation had the Bulldogs up by that same 6-2 score. Again, it was the Moose's third game in three days, so fatigue could have been a factor in their effort, but every game counts against potential playoff opponents. The Moose would have to lick their wounds and get ready for a rematch on Tuesday. With the Sunday loss, the Moose dropped to 37-33-5-2 on the season.

A Win Is A Win Is A Win

The Moose needed two points to win the season points total against the Bulldogs. Again, this could be a first-round matchup, so there was everything to play for in this game for both teams. Cory Schneider took his usual spot on the ice for the Moose, while Hamilton sent out their star goalie in Cedric Desjardins.

Hamilton opened the scoring in the first period. Ryan White picked up the puck just inside the Moose blueline on the right wing, and three Moose players converged as the Bulldogs entered the zone. Mario Bliznak and Tommy Maxwell had White covered fairly well, so I'm not sure why Brian Salcido felt he had to close on White as well when two Bulldogs were skating through the slot area. White fed the puck across to Maxime Lacroix who had a ton of room thanks to Evan Oberg having to watch Andrew Conboy due to Salcido's play on White. Oberg closed on Lacroix as he got away a laser of a shot, but couldn't block it. Lacroix's shot eluded Schneider, and Hamilton had the 1-0 lead on Lacroix's first goal of the season at 5:32.

It took nearly forty minutes for another goal to be scored, but the visitors were able to tie the game up early in the third period. Grant Stevenson was sent to the penalty box for holding, and the Moose powerplay took to the ice. Sergei Shirokov and Evan Oberg played catch before Shirokov fed Oberg in the high slot, and Oberg's one-timer beat Desjardins. Oberg's powerplay goal tied the game at 1-1, and his third goal of the season came at 3:13 of the third period.

The Moose struck again at the 7:00 mark. Tom Galvin threw a great stretch pass up to Kevin Clark as he cross the blue line on the left wing. As the Bulldogs converged on him, Clark threw a backhanded pass across the ice that a sprawling Shirokov couldn't corral, but Marco Rosa did on the right wing. Rosa's shot, however, was blocked by Frederic St. Denis. Shirokov was in the right place at the right time thanks to his earlier sprawl, and the puck landed on the blade of his stick. He tucked the puck underneath Desjardins, and the Russian sniper put the Moose ahead 2-1 with his 22nd goal of the season.

With Desjardins on the bench late in the game, there were a couple of mad scrambles in and around the Moose net, but the puck never made it past the goal line. The Moose survived the onslaught as the final buzzer sounded, and earned the 2-1 victory. With the win, the Moose improve to 38-33-5-2 on the season with two games remaining.

Losing Some Heart And Soul

With Ryan Johnson injured in Vancouver, you knew that the NHL club would come calling for some help. Johnson is out for approximately one month with a broken foot, and the Canucks need someone to fill the hole in their lineup.

Yesterday, the Canucks recalled Moose assistant captain and sixth-leading scorer in Matt Pettinger. Pettinger was a major part of the Moose line-up this season, providing scoring for an offensively-anemic club, and providing solid leadership. Pettinger will probably not be returned with the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on the horizon, meaning the Moose will lose another major player on their team for at least one round. Pettinger is the third call-up from the Moose, and joins Nolan Baumgartner and Michael Grabner on the Canucks' roster. None are expected back unless the Canucks are eliminated in a first-round upset.

The Moose may get some help, however. It is expected that Luca Sbisa may join the club once his WHL season is over. Currently, Sbisa is playing with the Portland Winter Hawks in the second round of the WHL Playoffs against the Vancouver Giants. The Giants lead that series by a 2-0 lead, and reports suggest that the Ducks will assign the big defenceman to Manitoba once Portland has been eliminated. Sbisa would be a nice fit in Manitoba, and his big shot would be a huge upgrade for the Moose powerplay.

Dan Sexton is expected to return to the Moose once the Anaheim Ducks finish their season. The Ducks are officially eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so Sexton will play out the remaining games before returning to the Moose for their Calder Cup Playoff run. Sexton will be a huge help for the Moose after losing Pettinger for at least one month.

According to Moose GM Craig Heisinger, it sounds as if Cody Hodgson will not join the Moose this season. The Brampton Battalions' centerman saw his team fall to the Barrie Colts tonight to lose the series in a four-game sweep, meaning his OHL season is over. It was expected that Hodgson would be assigned to the Moose, but Heisinger stated this week on a radio sport show that he expects Hodgson to focus on recovering from his myriad of injuries this season rather than pushing for more hockey. As much as I'd like to see Hodgson suit up for the Moose again, I'm quite certain that Vancouver will want to protect their investment. Don't expect to see Hodgson playing in the Calder Cup Playoffs unless he has a sudden turn of heart.

Playoff Scheduling

MTS Centre will play host to at least two AHL Calder Cup games this spring. The Moose will face either the Hamilton Bulldogs (very likely) or the Rochester Americans (highly unlikely) in the first round, so it's time to plan your springtime hockey watching.

Game 1 - Thursday, April 15 Manitoba Moose at TBD
Game 2 - Saturday, April 17 Manitoba Moose at TBD
Game 3 - Monday, April 19: TBD at Manitoba Moose
Game 4 - Wednesday, April 21: TBD at Manitoba Moose
Game 5 - Friday, April 23*: TBD at Manitoba Moose
Game 6 - Sunday, April 25* Manitoba Moose at TBD
Game 7 - Tuesday, April 27* Manitoba Moose at TBD

All games in Manitoba will begin at 7:30 CDT, so plan accordingly. Tickets are not yet on sale as seedings are still being determined, but once Manitoba's opponent is known, playoff tickets will most likely go on sale.

Two games remain this weekend as the Peoria Rivermen visit MTS Centre. If the Moose can win both, they'll post a respectable 40-win season, and that's pretty darn good considering the trouble they had all season scoring goals. The games against Peoria will see Pierre-Cedric Labrie return to Manitoba, and Yan Stastny will square off against his old team.

Two wins would go a long way in putting pressure on Abbotsford. DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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