Season Highlights Part 2: Sweeping to First OverallBy: Mitch Peacock | Published: June 13th 2018
A 24-point improvement over the 2016-17 season, including 13 more wins, and a spot in the playoffs for the first time in four years were among the highlights of a great season for the Manitoba Moose.
As for edging out the reigning AHL champs in Grand Rapids in game five to advance to the Central Division Final? Well, that was truly special.
In all, the Winnipeg Jets’ American Hockey League affiliate played 87 games in 2017-18 (2 preseason, 76 regular season, and nine Calder Cup Playoffs games), and it’s taking some doing on my part to limit my list of favourites to a handful of those contests.
The next game in my series was an early Christmas present of sorts for the organization and its fans.
SETTING THE STAGE
The Moose really took off after kick-starting their season on a six-game road trip through California to open November.
Back-to-back sweeps of Chicago and Laval when they got home from ‘Cali’ were followed by three wins in three games on the road against Central Division rivals. The Moose then went two-for-two at home against Cleveland and, voila! A nine-game winning streak.
Next thing you know, we’re talking about a Manitoba team that not only leads the division, and the Western Conference, but is in the mix for first overall.
That win streak ended with a shootout loss to Milwaukee, but the Moose got right back in the win column and had an 11-game point streak to pack with them before a highly anticipated trip east.
The swing showed a stop in Belleville first on the itinerary, followed by two games in Toronto. Two games against the only team ahead of the Moose in the entire AHL standings.
A poised Moose team overcame the scrappy Senators with a four-goal third period and a 7-3 Friday night win, before travelling to Toronto right after the contest.
Suddenly the weekend set against the Marlies was no longer a distant date on the schedule, but an opportunity to face the AHL’s best in their own building. The Saturday afternoon opener lived up to the hype.
Peter Stoykewych put the Moose up 1-0 heading to the third period, then Patrice Cormier doubled the advantage with a late empty net goal.
Jeremy Bracco spoiled Michael Hutchinson’s shutout bid with 21 seconds left, but the Moose skated away with a 2-1 victory.
The streak was now a club record-tying 13 consecutive games with a point!
DAY TO REMEMBER
Three-in-three sets are not often looked forward to. In fact, one of the first things AHL types will do when the schedule comes out (especially in the Western Conference), is look to see how many of those gruelling tests are on the way.
Think about it. Three games in three days, with travel, and the ever-present pressure to perform.
One word, two syllables… BRU-TAL.
As it turns out, not all three-in-threes are the same.
The third game of this specific set meant a chance for the Moose to sweep the league-leading Marlies in Toronto, set a new club record for consecutive games with a point, and move into first place in the AHL standings.
Both teams knew this was no ordinary game. All you had to do was watch the warm-up when players from both teams gathered at the red line to make it clear they’d be ready to go when the puck was dropped.
Toronto broke the ice just over eight minutes after opening faceoff. Before the first period was done, Nic Petan made it seven of his last eight games with a point when he finished off a slick passing play as a power play expired. Michael Spacek, Mason Appleton, and Jack Roslovic whipped the puck around before Petan levelled the score.
The score sat 1-1 at the end of one with the Moose outshooting the Marlies by a 12-6 tally.
Manitoba jumped in front for the first time on the afternoon when Buddy Robinson cashed in with help from Kirill Gotovets and Brendan Lemieux early in the second period. Robinson caught the blocker arm of Toronto’s Cal Pickard on his way to the front of the net for the deflection, and the Winnipeger in goal for the Marlies didn’t like it. Despite Pickard’s protests, the goal stood and the Moose had a lead they maintained into the third period.
The final frame saw Manitoba complete a weekend to remember in style.
First, it was Michael Hutchinson with several key stops, including helping the Moose survive a Marlies’ five-on-three power play.
Jack Roslovic continued his push for the AHL scoring lead with a sensational goal just past the midway point of the period. The Jets’ first rounder forced a turnover and ripped one to the top-corner to give the Moose a 3-1 lead.
Then came the icing on the cake as Patrice Cormier and Buddy Robinson (shorthanded) added empty net goals to complete a 5-1 victory.
Three wins in less than 48 hours to secure a franchise record 14th straight outing with at least a point, and claim the top points-percentage in the AHL with an impressive 21-5-1-2 mark through 29 games.
A no-doubter for the list of my favourite Moose games of the 2017-18 season.
Photo Credit: Christian Bonin/TSGphoto.com