Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Antler Banter: Volume 25

It's nothing but divisional battles as the Moose head down the stretch towards the Calder Cup Playoffs. The Herd had a pair of games against the Abbotsford Heat and a pair of games against the Rochester Americans that could go a long way in determining who makes the playoffs and who does not. These divisional games go a long way in setting the table for the playoffs, so let's take a look at how the Moose handled the Heat and the Americans this past week. Make sure you head over to the Moose website for all your Manitoba Moose news and information. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. The Moose look to turn up the heat on the Heat and Americans in this week's Hardcore Hockey!

Surviving The Firestorm

The Moose welcomed the Abbotsford Heat to MTS Centre on Friday for Folklorama Night as the Moose celebrated the multicultural background of Manitoba and their own team. The Moose have had the Heat's number all season long as they've built a 6-0-2 record thus far against the Heat. The Moose will need that streak to continue as they work towards capturing the North Division crown. Swedish goaltender Eddie Lack got the start for the Moose, and he matched up against American JP Lamoureux in the Abbotsford net.

In what seems to be a common theme on Antler Banter this season, Eddie Lack deserves a ton of credit for his work in this game. Lack was spectacular at times, making a number of ridiculous saves on the night to give his team a chance at winning this game. Lack stopped an amazing 45 of 47 pucks sent his way on Friday, and also added three stops in the skills competition. Stopping 48 of 50 shots on the night is a pretty impressive night at the office.

I'm starting to really warm up to the line of Rick Rypien, Aaron Volpatti, and Garth Murray. These three men are a coach's dream when you're looking for a spark for your squad. They hit, they score, they fight, they forecheck, they backcheck, and they do it all with a smile on their faces. The three men finished the night with a combined one assist, three shots, seven penalty minutes, a +1 rating, and a shootout goal. Coaches love tenacity and fearlessness on the ice, and these three men embody those traits and more.

It was nice to see Marco Rosa back on the ice for this game after being out with an injury, and he scored a gift goal to get back into the groove. However, the Moose really need to get some scoring from more of their scorers if they want to charge into the playoffs. Lack can't be expected to make 45 saves every night, so the Moose have to make a more concerted effort to give him some added support. That being said, the Moose did just enough to get to the extra time, and they buried the Heat in the shootout for the 3-2 win. With the victory, the Moose improve to 39-27-6 on the season!

Lack Is On Fire

The Moose and Heat had Saturday off to think about their efforts on Friday night before meeting up again at MTS Centre on Sunday afternoon. There was a notable absence in the Moose line-up on Sunday, and we'll discuss that at the conclusion of this game. Eddie Lack, after a stellar performance on Friday, got the nod again on Sunday and the Heat gave JP Lamoureux another shot at beating the Moose.

If there has been one defenceman who has really emerged as the offensive leader while Lee Sweatt has been sidelined with an injury, it has to be Mark Flood. Flood has really settled into the role of being the cannon at the point on the powerplay, and he and Kevin Connauton work very well on the blueline on the man-advantage. Flood pounded home another powerplay goal, his tenth of the season, and he ended the game with four shots and a +1 rating. Flood has developed nicely this season, and I'm hoping he gets a ton of opportunities to continue to bomb away at opposing goaltenders in the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Kudos go out to Marco Rosa who has started a new streak! Rosa scored in his return from injury on Friday, and he added his second goal back in as many games on Sunday! Rosa picked up a loose puck in the slot early in the third period after an aggressive Moose forecheck, waited for a shot-blocker to slide out of position, and then went shelf on Lamoureux for his ninth goal of the season. It was another solid game for Rosa at both ends of the ice, and he seems to be finding his groove as the Moose close out the season.

I'm sure head coach Claude Noel will have words with his team after a second game in which they surrendered 40+ shots. Eddie Lack came up with 44 saves in this game on 45 shots, and the Moose gave their netminder just enough scoring to eke out a 2-1 win. Personally, I didn't think the Moose played well enough to earn a win in this one, but they were opportunists as they scored a powerplay goal and Rosa buried a turnover deep in Abbotsford's zone. Big credit to Eddie Lack on this weekend, though, as he was outstanding in two games in making 89 saves on 92 shots. With the 2-1 victory, the Moose hit 40 wins on the season as they improve to 40-27-6!

As for the notable absence, there was no Joel Perrault for the Moose on Sunday. Reportedly, it sounds as though Perrault suffered a knee injury on Friday that could keep him out of the lineup through to the end of the season. I'm hoping that Perrault will be back before that, but I'd rather have him healthy for a long playoff run.

Moose Pepper Americans

If the Moose learned anything from the previous two games against the Heat, it was the importance of shooting the puck. Wayne Gretzky once famously said, "You miss 100 percent of the shots you don't take", and it was clear that the Moose had no interest in testing Mr. Gretzky's theory on Tuesday night against the Rochester Americans. Eddie Lack was the man between the pipes for the Moose yet again while Marc Cheverie took to the nets for Rochester.

He's been off the ice for a long, long time due to injury, but it only took 2:42 for Jason Jaffray to score his first goal for the Manitoba Moose! Jaffray provided a big boost for the Moose, and he got a great ovation from the crowd after scoring his first goal for the Herd since June 12, 2009! The Moose sniper, on loan from the NHL's Anaheim Ducks, looked very comfortable out on the ice, and it didn't seem like he was fatigued during any shift. If this is a sign of things to come from Jaffray, the Moose are set with a bonafide sniper on the roster. More importantly, it just feels right to have Jaffray back in antlers.

The Moose got a big game out of Billy Sweatt. Sweatt was responsible for the tying goal, and then showed off some great hand-eye coordination as he batted the puck out of mid-air into the Rochester net with a mere 33 seconds remaining in the game! The big thing about Sweatt's game on this night is that he went to areas on the ice where he can be most dangerous, and that's what the Moose need from their scoring threats. Despite finishing the game as a -1, Sweatt threw seven shots on Cheverie and looked dangerous all night!

The Moose got goals from a couple of players they need to score in a big way, and Lack closed out another one-goal victory as the Moose took this Tuesday night tilt with a 3-2 victory. The Moose threw an amazing 46 shots on Cheverie, but only found the back of the net three times, so there might be some alarm there. We'll get to see if the Moose can improve on that shooting percentage on Wednesday. With the win, the Moose move to 41-27-6 on the campaign!

It's All North From Here

The Moose have nothing but North Division opponents for the rest of the season, so the Moose hold their playoff lives in their hands. The Moose will get two more dates with the Rochester Americans, three games against the always-tough Hamilton Bulldogs, and a single game against the Toronto Marlies that will be broadcast on CBC.

If the Moose hope to capture first-place in the North Division, they'll have to beat both Rochester and Toronto. Winning two of three against Hamilton should close out the season and give Manitoba another banner to hang from the rafters at MTS Centre. However, both Toronto and Hamilton are playing for playoff spots, and Rochester is looking to play the role of spoiler. There will be no easy points as the Moose close out this season.

Bear down, get it done, and just win! DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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