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Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Antler Banter: Volume 29

There were some negative vibes running through Antler Banter last week, but we're back with a new week, a new graphic, and, appropriately, a new opponent to battle as the Moose decided to pull up their collective socks and beat a bewildered Lake Erie squad. Again, I stuck by the Moose because of their playoff experience in knowing how to deal with pressure, and the Moose proved me right as they battled back from the brink to move onto the second round of the 2011 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs! Hit up the Moose website for all your Manitoba Moose playoff news and Calder Cup information. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose playoff game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. The Moose and Monsters close out their opening round playoff series in this week's Hardcore Hockey!

Against The Wall

With the Moose down 2-1 in the series, there had to be a sense of urgency for the Herd to make good on their home ice in order for them to go back to Cleveland with the upper hand. Thursday night was a chance for the Moose to pull even, shift momentum in the series back to themselves, and make this a best-of-three series. Tyler Weiman would square off against John Grahame, but Weiman's night would be a short one as Eddie Lack closed out this game.

Make no mistake about this: SPECIAL TEAMS WIN AND LOSE PLAYOFF SERIES. Have I made this clear enough for everyone, including the Moose players? Thursday night saw both sides of the special teams pull up lame as the Moose allowed three powerplay goals on eight chances while the powerplay was oh-fer once again in missing out on four opportunities AND allowed another shorthanded goal.

Any time you give up three powerplay goals in one game, you're going to be hard-pressed in winning that game. While I disagree that Aaron Volpatti deserved the major penalty and game misconduct, I'm not wearing the stripes on the ice. Lake Erie scored twice on that five-minute powerplay, added another on an early second-period powerplay, and added a fourth goal while playing shorthanded. The finger is being pointed at the special teams tonight: that's how you lose games, gentlemen.

Again, the powerplay is not only horrific offensively, but they seem to have a knack for giving up goals as well. Is it possible to just decline powerplay opportunities? Rarely do you see powerplay units being outscored like this Moose unit has been, and, quite frankly, it's pathetic. I'll say it again: if the Moose lose this series, you can narrow it down to the powerplay unit's ineffectiveness.

The Moose made a game out of this one, trailing 4-3 with a minute to play, but two empty-net goals by the Monsters ended this night on a 6-3 losing note. Special teams were the problem on this night, and the Moose now find themselves on the wrong end of a 3-1 series lead. It's do-or-die from this point on, so let's hope that Friday night's game extends the series for another visit to Cleveland.

Back To The North Coast

With their backs clearly against the wall, the Moose needed to make a statement if they hoped to head back to Cleveland with some momentum on their side. The only advantage the Moose seem to have thus far in the series is their play at even-strength. The Moose went back to Eddie Lack in Friday's game with their season on the line. He stood at the opposite end of the ice from Jason Bacashihua as John Grahame was given the night off.

For the first time in a very long time, we may have seen the Moose play a complete three periods of hockey. The top line of Sergei Shirokov, Marco Rosa, and Jason Jaffray looked impressive in this one as they combined for two goals, three assists, a +5 rating, and 13 shots on net! Jaffray really came to play as he was physical, he scored the insurance marker, and he assisted on Shirokov's tally to open the scoring in the third period. That line stepped up with the pressure on, and that's what you need from your elite players.

Discipline was also part of the equation in this game as the Moose were only whistled for two penalties, and were a perfect two-for-two in killing those penalties off. For a series that has been as physical as it has, this game really was a tight-checking affair. Credit Manitoba for not taking a number of unnecessary penalties after their previous outing saw them embarrassed while a member of the Herd sat in the sin bin.

What can you say about Eddie Lack? The unflappable rookie returned to MVP form with his 26-save performance in Friday's game. Cleveland launched 26 shots, and none found the twine behind Lack as he pitched a shutout to send the series back to Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena. Again, with the pressure on, the Moose got a fantastic performance from one of their best players.

The Moose stormed out of the gates, outshooting the Monsters 18-5 in the first period, but had nothing to show for it at the end of 20 minutes. It wasn't until the 6:35 mark of the third period that we got scoring as Shirokov's third goal of the series put the Moose up. It was all the scoring the Moose would need, but Jaffray added the insurance marker into an empty net with ten seconds to play, and the Moose booked a flight back to Cleveland with their 2-0 win. The Monsters, though, still have the advantage with a 3-2 series lead.

Rockin' And Rollin' The Rock 'n' Roll Capital

Lake Erie had a second opportunity to close out the series as the series shifted back to the second-largest city in Ohio. Manitoba is still struggling while on the powerplay, but their play in the last game was indicative that this Moose squad is superior in five-on-five situations. Eddie Lack suited up for Game Six after his shutout performance in Game Five, and the Monsters went back to John Grahame to try to close this series out.

Hold the presses, ladies and gentlemen: the Manitoba Moose scored a powerplay goal! And this one was a big one. With the Moose and Monsters knotted up at 1-1, Lake Erie's Mark Olver was sent to the box for holding, and I figured it would be at least two minutes before the Moose could score another goal. Thanks to a very subtle change, the Moose made this powerplay count for the first time in the series.

Keith Seabrook was sent over the boards for the powerplay, and his laser from the point found space past Grahame, giving the Moose the 2-1 lead in the game and their first powerplay goal of the series! While the joy of scoring wasn't over-celebrated by the Moose, I, for one, was overjoyed! Good job on the Moose coaching staff for adding Seabrook to the powerplay unit as his regular-season scoring prowess returned quickly in this one.

Two other Moose players had excellent games as Kevin Clark and Jordan Schroeder (remember him?) both had two assists in the game. Clark and Schroeder combined on setting up Bill Sweatt for his first of the postseason early in the second period before relaying the puck to Seabrook for the powerplay marker in the third period. Great game for these two after they had been struggling down the stretch and into the playoffs, and the Moose will need more efforts like this one if they hope to advance.

Eddie Lack was stellar once again, and the Moose skated to a 3-1 Easter Sunday victory in this game to even the series at 3-3. With a Game Seven scheduled for Tuesday, this series has had a lot of drama in it, and now we get to see a Game Seven to finish this one off. Can the Moose pull off an improbable recovery from a 3-1 series deficit to advance?

Cleveland Rocked

If we go back to Antler Banter: Volume 27, I stated that I thought the Moose would advance due to their previous playoff experiences when compared to the Monsters who were in their first-ever postseason. I stated,
"For all intents and purposes, this looks like a very even series at the outset. If I were a betting man, though, I'd give Manitoba the edge through experience."
Well, it was all about seeing whether or not my prediction for this series would hold true as Game Seven would either make me a liar or would serve prophetic. Eddie Lack and John Grahame would be the goaltenders in this deciding game as both the Moose and Monsters looked to advance.

I think we might be seeing a trend here - the Moose scored yet another powerplay goal! And wouldn't you it, but Keith Seabrook was the man to notch his second goal of the playoffs, both of them powerplay markers! Seabrook's third-period goal came just 55 seconds after a fabulous goal by Alex Bolduc put the Moose up 2-1 in this game, swinging the momentum in this game to the Moose's side in a big way. Seabrook also had an assist on Bolduc's goal, so he was key in the two goals to put the Moose ahead in this game.

Eddie Lack was absolutely spectacular in this game, stopping 32 of the 33 shots he faced. When the chips were on the line, Lack turned his game up another notch, and really put up a wall in the Moose zone. To think he battled a former NHL goaltender as well as he did shows a ton of poise and maturity in this young goalie. The Moose may not have a goaltending controversy, but if Lack continues to progress as he is, the Vancouver Canucks certainly will in the future.

After allowing Lake Erie to jump out in front for the third straight game while facing elimination, the Moose battled back to take Game Seven and the series by a 4-1 score! It's amazing how many times the Moose found themselves behind in this series, especially after being down 3-1 in games, only to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. The Moose's experience in high-pressure games was clearly evident as they battled back from the brink of defeat to win this series, and they proved me prophetic with their incredible win! The Moose will now advance to the North Division Final, and that series starts on Thursday.

As for the Monsters, their season is done, and they'll prepare for next season in the coming weeks. But for now...

Moose Nemesis

After having defeated the Oklahoma City Barons in six games, the Hamilton Bulldogs will face the Moose in the second round of the 2011 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs. The Bulldogs must be salivating at this match-up as they have had the Moose's number all season long. There is no nice way of saying this: the Moose will need a Herculean effort to exorcise their demons against the Bulldogs.

There are a few things that the Moose can do, though. The first is to stay out of the penalty box. As seen in the Lake Erie series, when the Moose start a parade to the penalty box, they lose games. They have to play more disciplined that the Bulldogs, and they have to constantly move their feet. Lazy penalties will make this a short series as the Bulldogs are an offensive dynamo as a team.

Secondly, the Moose have to find a way to continue to light the fire under their powerplay. The easiest way to have the Bulldogs thrown off kilter is to kill them on the man-advantage. If the Moose can put the Bulldogs behind the eight-ball with the powerplay, they'll find that the trap the Bulldogs use will evaporate as Hamilton will need to press for goals. I've said it all through the Lake Erie series, so here it is again: SPECIAL TEAMS WIN AND LOSE PLAYOFF SERIES.

And thirdly, make life difficult for Nigel Dawes, Aaron Palushaj, and Dustin Boyd. It's no secret that this line made life difficult for the Moose in every single game this season, and it appeared as though the Moose made no adjustments to throw this line off their game. Yes, they're fast, they can score, and they do the little things that make them successful, but the Moose have to make adjustments to cause this line some frustration. Be physical, out-hustle them, and do not give them an inch to work in or they will hurt you. It will be a difficult assignment for whoever draws this match-up, but the Moose cannot let this line dominate this series like they did in the regular season.

Bulldogs and Moose kick things off in Hamilton tomorrow! I'm pumped, and I'm calling another Manitoba win in seven games! DO IT, Moose!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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