There are only six games remaining in the Herd's regular season, and we could possibly have two or more weeks of playoff hockey. Antler Banter is back on Wednesday, and the Moose had two big games this week on Monday and Tuesday. We'll look at those two battles against division-rival Abbotsford, and we'll update the standings and what the Moose have to do to ensure a playoff berth. For all of your breaking and current Manitoba Moose news and information, head over to the Moose website. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. Let's get down to business with some Hardcore Hockey!
Manitoba rolled into Abbotsford, BC for a couple of road games against a team ahead of them in the standings in the Heat. Manitoba trailed the Heat by a mere three points with an opportunity for four points in the two-game set, so you know these were big games for both teams. The Monday night tilt saw Cory Schneider start for Manitoba in net, and the Heat responded by sending Leland Irving to their blue paint.
Manitoba found themselves down two men after a penalty to Dusty Collins for slashing at 3:37, followed by a delay-of-game call on Travis Ramsey at 3:57, put the Moose behind the eight-ball early. The Moose were just about to kill off Collins' penalty, but the Heat made them pay for their indiscretions. The Heat worked the perimeter of the powerplay, passing between Latendresse and Delmore before Staffan Kronwall fired a puck from the top of the triangle just over Schneider's left pad at the 4:35 mark to put the home team up early. Kronwall's powerplay goal was his fifth of the season, and the Heat led 1-0.
The two teams battled for the rest of the period, but neither team was able to dent the twine. Newcomer Aaron Volpatti, wearing #11, made his impact felt as he rumbled with Logan MacMillan at 18:23, so the kids were looking to light the fire for the Moose again tonight. Abbotsford led in shots with a 7-5 lead, and had the 1-0 lead on the scoreboard after twenty minutes.
The second period, however, seemed like the Moose were playing at home. The largely pro-Manitoba crowd, thanks to their affiliation with the NHL's Vancouver Canucks, had a lot to cheer about after this period.
Taylor Ellington, who has been playing with the ECHL's Victoria Salmon Kings this season, scored an early goal when he ripped a slapshot past Irving off a great Mario Bliznak flip-pass across the point. Ellington's first of the season came just 1:28 into the second period, and the two teams were tied up again at 1-1.
3:12 later, the visitors took the lead. Mario Bliznak won a battle in front of the net against Mark Mitera, and chipped home a backhanded, cross-crease feed from Guillaume Desbiens at 4:40. The plucky Moose forward has his ninth of the season. More importantly, the Moose led 2-1, and that assist by Desbiens will be important later on in the game.
Moose rookie Jordan Schroeder made it a 3-1 game at 13:22. Tom Galvin fed Yan Stastny at the top of the right face-off circle, and his wrist shot was stopped by Irivng, but the goaltender couldn't control the rebound. The puck landed to his left where Schroeder was standing, and Schroeder stuffed home a backhanded shot for his third of the season.
After forty minutes of play, the Moose had taken a 3-1 lead. More importantly, the Moose won the period in goals and shots, outshooting the Heat 13-6 for an 18-13 lead in the game. There were still twenty minutes to go, and, as seen in some games this season, no lead is safe if you sit back.
The Moose continued to pressure the Heat, and it paid off at 4:59 of the third period. Schroeder carried the puck into the Heat zone on the right wing before finding Matt Pettinger in the high slot. Pettinger made one move before dishing a backhanded pass to the trailing Guillaume Desbiens at the top of the left face-off circle, and the Moose forward made no mistake on the one-timer as he ripped it past Irving. Desbiens' 17th goal of the season made it a 4-1 Moose lead.
The Moose kept the heat on the Heat. Matt Pettinger was sent in on a partial breakaway two minutes later, and his low shot was stopped by Irving's right pad. Again, though, the Heat goalie couldn't control the rebound, and it popped out to his right as Aaron Volpatti crashed the crease with Carter Bancks checking him. The puck bounced off Volpatti and landed in the back of the net, marking the rookie's first professional hockey goal. Volpatti's first career goal at 6:59 gave the Moose a 5-1 lead.
Two seconds after that goal, JD Watt and Guillaume Desbiens dropped their mitts at center ice, and the dance was on. Desbiens assumed the role of politician as he handed out right after right to Watt. Judges score the fight 10-8 in favour of Desbiens, and the Gordie Howe hat trick was complete! More on this below.
The only other goal in this game came at 16:12. Andy Delmore brought the puck in over the Moose line on the right wing. With no one to pass to, the Heat defenceman let a bullet of a wrist shot go to the far post on Schneider. The Moose goalie couldn't get a blocker on it, and the Heat saved a little face on Delmore's sixth goal of the season.
The Moose shut down the Heat the rest of the way, and the 5-2 score was indicative of the Moose's play: aggressive, up-tempo, and lots of shots. Manitoba ended up outshooting the Heat by a 25-19 margin, and their victory pushed their record to 36-31-5-1 on the season. More importantly, the Moose trailed the Heat for third-place in the North Division by only one point!
It was nice to see Desbiens named as the first star in Monday's game. He played a big game all night, and was all over the ice causing problems for the Heat. His Gordie Howe hat trick - a goal, an assist, and a fight in the same game - was highly appropriate as well. Mr. Hockey turned 82 on Wednesday, so it was fitting that a scrappy player like Desbiens would register the Gordie Howe hat trick.
The Moose were looking to move into third place on Tuesday night in their second game against the Abbotsford Heat. Another big effort would be needed from the Moose if they wanted to move up the North Division. Cory Schneider was back in net for the Moose, but the Heat went to David Shantz for their goaltending duties after Leland Irving suffered the loss the night before.
The two teams alternated in their trips to the penalty box until Taylor Ellington's penalty at 16:27 for holding. Kronwall quarterbacked the powerplay from the point, and found John Rheault along the left wing half-boards. Rheault didn't have a lot of options for passes, so he fired a slapshot from the circle that found its way through the maze of legs in front of Schneider and went past the Moose goalie on the glove side. Rheault's powerplay goal was his fourth of the season, and the Heat had the 1-0 lead at 17:29 of the first period.
I'm pretty sure that Abbotsford head coach Jim Playfair read his team the riot act after rolling over the night before, and it showed through their shot totals. The Heat outshot the Moose 14-6 in the first period, and led 1-0 on the scoreboard because of it. While I'm sure Playfair didn't snap like he did late last week, I'm quite certain he demanded a lot more out of his team after the weak and uninspired 19-shot effort one night earlier.
Powerplays continued to control this game. The Heat bench was whistled for too many men on the ice at 5:31, and the Moose powerplay unit took to the ice. Sergei Shirokov cut through the slot and took a pass from Evan Oberg that he fired on net, but Shantz was there for the save, and the puck ended up off to the left of the net. Shantz, however, had overplayed Shirokov badly, and Shirokov circled behind the net. Marco Rosa, seizing opportunity, called for the puck as he was wide-open at the right side of the net, and Shirokov obliged. Less than a second later, the puck was in the back of the net before Shantz could recover. Rosa's 22nd of the season on the powerplay tied the game at 1-1 at 7:06 of the second period.
The tight checking continued through the rest of the deadlocked period, and the game rolled into the second intermission tied at 1-1. However, Abbotsford continued their onslaught of shots, outshooting the Moose 16-11 in the middle frame for a 30-17 advantage through forty minutes. Could Schneider continue his magic through the third period?
At 13:17, both Guillaume Desbiens and Colin Stuart were sent off. Desbiens was whistled for holding while Stuart earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for the dive on the play. During the four-on-four situation, a stretch pass by Keith Seabrook found David Van Der Gulik behind the Moose defencemen at the blueline. Both Evan Oberg and Tom Galvin couldn't catch the speedy Heat forward, and Van Der Gulik slipped a shot between Schneider's pads to put the Heat up 2-1. Van Der Gulik's 14th of the season was a tough goal as the Moose appeared to be running on fumes in the third period.
Unfortunately, the Moose couldn't muster any more offence, and the Heat earned the 2-1 win at the end of regulation time. Cory Schneider put in a magnificent performance, stopping 41 of 43 shots, but the Moose couldn't muster any more offence than one goal on 20 shots. With the loss, the Moose drop to 36-32-5-1, and fall three points behind Abbotsford again.
Honestly, the split wasn't much help as the Moose lost two games to make up points by only winning one of the two games. With six games remaining, the Moose will want to shoot for a 5-1 record to try and salvage third-place, and possibly second-place, in the North Division.
The Moose didn't do any favours for themselves by not beating Abbotsford twice, but there is still a chance that they can pull off the impossible and end up in second-place in the North Division. Get out your calculators, kids, because here's today's math assignment.
For Manitoba to end up in second-place in the North Division, they need a pile of help. Rochester has five games remaining and sit with 85 points. Abbotsford has 81 points and has five games remaining. Manitoba has 78 points, but has six games remaining.
Rochester plays the AHL-leading Hershey Bears on Friday, the North Division-leading Hamilton Bulldogs on Saturday, and finish off the season with games against Grand Rapids, the Toronto Marlies, and the Syracuse Crunch. If they go 3-2-0 in those games, they will officially prevent Manitoba from getting into second-place. It's entirely possible that the Amerks could defeat the Griffins, Marlies, and Crunch in the last week of the season, so the Moose will need some help there.
Abbotsford has games remaining against Grand Rapids on Friday and Saturday, before finishing the season with two games in Lake Erie against the Monsters and one game in Toronto against the Marlies. Wins in all five games will assure that the Moose will not move into second-place, and that is entirely possible. Again, the Moose will need help, but if the Heat can go 3-2-0, there's a good chance they should hold on for third-place in the North Division.
Manitoba has two games against the Toronto Marlies this weekend, two against the Hamilton Bulldogs next week, and close out the season at home with a two-game set against the Peoria Rivermen. The Moose have struggled against the Marlies and Rivermen this season, so they'll need to play playoff hockey for the next two weeks if they want to climb the standings. Otherwise, those two games against the Bulldogs will be a first-round playoff preview. I'm guessing that the Moose have to go 4-1-1 at worst to have a shot at third-place.
For a team that has played win-one, lose-one for the second-half of the season, that 4-1-1 record might be a tall order at this point in the season. But I still believe it can be done! DO IT, MOOSE!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!