Just over a month ago, the Moose wrapped up their second season since returning to Winnipeg. The team closed out the campaign outside the playoffs, but with more wins and points than the year before.
Add to the story the fact that a dozen players wore both Moose and Jets’ colours over the course of the schedule and there was plenty to feel positive about. That’s the big picture, but what about smaller one? Which games stood out above the others?
Last week I started a look at three of my favourite games of the season. This week’s blog is the next in the series.
MANITOBA @ CLEVELAND April 14 at Quicken Loans Arena
It was game 76 of 76 and the Moose were no longer in contention for a playoff spot, but you’d never know it.
After earning seven of a possible eight points on their final home stand of the season, Manitoba hit Cleveland with confidence and a chance to spoil the Monsters’ playoff push.
Meanwhile the Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate, and defending Calder Cup champs, took the ice for their final game knowing a win against the Moose and a Charlotte loss would punch their ticket back to the post-season (a single point and an empty night for the Checkers would have worked too).
More than 13,000 fans made for a terrific atmosphere at The Q, and the contest did not disappoint!
Right from the opening faceoff the two teams competed with speed, skill, and an intensity that made it seem like the playoffs were already underway.
The Moose killed off a Monster power play mid first period.
Then, captains Patrice Cormier and Ryan Craig, squared-off in a scrap that only emphasized what the game meant to the teams.
Sprinkle in the sharp play of goalies Eric Comrie and Anton Forsberg, who each benefited from a shot off the post, and the first period ended scoreless but only left fans wanting more.
MIDDLE PERIOD MAYHEM
The second frame did not disappoint with the pace and physicality remaining at very high levels, and the scoring chances climbing.
In a game with so much on the line for the home team every shot, every save, every hit, had the benches up and the crowd roaring. Then at 11:11, things boiled over as tempers flared in front of the Cleveland bench.
Shockingly, Moose Captain Patrice Cormier was punched in the head by a player on the Monsters’ bench. As you’d expect, that got the Manitoba bench’s attention and soon Darren Kramer was standing up for his teammates. When the dust settled Kramer and Moose coach Pascal Vincent were done for the night and the Moose were short-handed.
An intense penalty-killing effort later, including a massive stop by Eric Comrie, the teams were back at even strength and still tied.
Somehow, despite the clubs combining for 28 shots over the 20 minutes, this nail-biter hit the second intermission scoreless.
The third period started with the Moose on the man-advantage for 1:34, but they only needed 14 seconds to produce the game’s first goal.
Kyle Connor continued his red-hot play down the stretch, whipping a shot past Forsberg on the short-side for a 1-0 Manitoba lead. The tally was Connor’s team-best 25th of the season.
From there the teams continued with an intensity to match the occasion, though the scoring chances dried up as they buckled down defensively.
With the final seconds counting down, the Moose held off a frantic push from the Monsters and skated away with a 1-0 win. The victory displayed the best of the Jets’ farmhands and Cleveland’s loss ultimately cost the Monsters a chance to defend its AHL title.
BEYOND THE FINAL HORN
The victory improved the Moose to three more wins, and seven more points, than last season and displayed a hunger to take their game to another level next season.
Kyle Connor’s game winning goal was his 17th goal in the final 20 games of the season. It was also his team-leading 4th game winner, and club-best 9th on the power play. Connor’s 25 tallies put him 3rd among AHL rookies for the year. Not bad for a guy who played 52 games.
As for the 30 save shutout? It was Eric Comrie’s third of the season and, as it turns out, the perfect springboard for him to join Canada for the World Hockey Championship.