Season Highlights Part 5: The Deciding GameBy: Mitch Peacock | Published: July 13th 2018
So here we are at the last of my five favourites from this past season, and I have to say this was even tougher than I thought.
“This” being finding a way to keep the list of ‘faves’ to just five. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy in a year where so many things went well for the Moose, but picking five from a 42-win season, followed by a thrilling playoff run was tougher than I thought.
I’m sure you can see as clearly as I that any, or all, of the wins in round one against Grand Rapids could be highlighted.
In fact, after devoting one of the spots to that Game 1 win over GR on the late power-play goal by Michael Spacek, and another big outing from Eric Comrie, I started thinking about what a huge effort the Moose came up with to win Game 3.
Just a few days after being blasted 5-1 at home by the defending champs to tie the series at a win apiece, the Moose headed into enemy territory. Manitoba needed a pair of wins at Van Andel Arena to prevent the Griffins from cruising into the second round.
The Jets’ American League club came up with two goals in the first half of the first period and then added another early in the second to take a 3-1 lead in a critical Game 3. When Grand Rapids got within a goal, Skyler Mackenzie scored in his pro debut to put the Moose on top 4-2. The visitors added two more in the final frame for a 6-3 victory.
Eric Comrie’s stellar work can’t be left out. The third-year pro made 45 stops to help that offense stand up and push the Griffs to the brink of elimination.
Clutch performance, but not on the list and I don’t really want to talk about it anymore because it causes too much second guessing. Let’s just pretend there’s an “honourable mention list” and put it at the top, okay?
SERIES TAKES A TURN
A night after that gutsy effort by the Moose to take a 2-1 series lead, the reigning cup champs rebounded.
Manitoba was blanked by Jared Coreau for a third time on the season, and Grand Rapids took advantage of two turnovers late in the second period en route to a 3-0 series-leveling victory.
Now despite the constant talk in sports of “never getting too high, never getting too low”, these athletes are human. It would have been easy to think Manitoba had missed its chance to put the Griffins away with that Game 4 setback.
Instead, the Moose justifiably felt they’d played well enough to win and believed a similar outing in a decisive fifth game would give them a shot at moving on to the division final.
NIGHT TO REMEMBER
After four games of the series, the Moose and Griffins were all even and tired of going at each other.
To say it was an intense series would be like saying the Hatfields and McCoys “weren’t on the same page”.
The Manitoba lineup, ravaged by injuries and suspensions, got a boost for the fifth, and deciding, game. The team’s regular season goal-leader Buddy Robinson returned from a two-game ban handed out after Game 2.
American League rookie-of-the-year Mason Appleton, sidelined with a concussion since Game 2, didn’t return. Nor did 17-goal sniper Michael Spacek, who served the middle game of a three-game suspension.
Delayed by three days because of building availability issues, it was time for Game 5 and the Moose needed a mere 1:49 to put one past the previously-dominant Coreau. Robinson supplied captain Patrice Cormier, after Brendan Lemieux got the play started.
Just five minutes later, the home team replied on the man-advantage, leveling the winner-take-all contest at 1-1. It stayed that way for over 30 minutes.
Just as it looked like the series was going to be decided in the final frame, the Moose gained the upper hand.
Cameron Schilling noticed a Griffins player had lost his stick and took the opportunity to go to the net, just as Brendan Lemieux whipped the puck from the far half-boards to the goal. The puck found Schilling’s stick, and it was in the back of the net in the blink of an eye. The score read 2-1 Manitoba with just 14 seconds left in the second period!
The Moose penalty kill came up big to keep the home team quiet early in the third period. Then veteran forward Mike Sgarbossa provided a dagger to the heart of the Griffins.
The former Duck and Panther pressured a Grand Rapids’ defender into a sloppy pass off the end boards in the Griffs’ zone. Sgarbossa pounced on the puck, and out-waited a surprised Coreau to give the Moose a 3-1 lead with just over 13 minutes left.
The defending Calder Cup champs put 15 pucks toward Eric Comrie in that final period, but none of them found twine. The Moose got empty-netters from Brendan Lemieux and series-standout Chase DeLeo, to dethrone the 2017 Calder Cup champs by a 5-1 score.
So much adversity in the series, and such a great response with a spot in the Central Division Final on the line. That’s what makes Game 5 of the Central Division Semi-Finals one of my favourite game of the season.
Photo Credit: Sam Iannamico