HERSHEY, Pa. — They have walked the talk of putting the past in the past all 100 games of this AHL season. Now the Manitoba Moose will have to do it again, and this one will be the toughest of all because of the nature of the penalty that torpedoed them in Sunday’s Game 4 of the Calder Cup final against the Hershey Bears.
In a deadlocked game in the third period, the visitors were whistled for too many men on the ice — oh, the ghost of former Bear Don Cherry — which handed the home team a five-on-three and the eventual winning goal in a 2-1 triumph before 10,739 at Giant Center.
Two wins here have pushed the Bears to a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven championship series and gives them a chance to wrap it up here Tuesday night.
"I told them everything stays behind us," Moose coach Scott Arniel said, putting on an especially brave face after the narrowest of defeats. "We’ve said it in every playoff round and with every win or loss. We’ve really tried to stress what’s coming next. Today’s news is done."
With Moose defenceman Nolan Baumgartner already off for hooking, the Moose were going about their killing business when forward Guillaume Desbiens took the puck with time and space.
He opted not to dump it to the Hershey zone and instead circled back to burn time, but as he did that, he interrupted the other penalty-killers, who were eager to change.
Defencemen Max Fortunus and Marc Fistric thought about coming off but didn’t make it when Desbiens circled back, but Moose blueliner Travis Ramsey jumped on.
Caught and going down two men for 1:05, Manitoba had all but foiled the Bears until Keith Aucoin took a shot off the backboard and pushed it in the open side with two seconds left in Baumgartner’s minor.
"It was just a case where our right defenceman was changing for our other right defenceman and didn’t follow him all the way to the bench, thought he was there," Arniel said. "It was an honest mistake, but very costly."
Left with just more than 12 minutes to square it up, Manitoba generated the chances, but not the goal to force overtime.
The bounce and the penalty were hot topics after the game.
"Bounces happen," said Moose goalie Cory Schneider, left with the helpless feeling while Aucoin was potting the winner far to his right. "They’re part of the game. Just from the angle he (Alexandre Giroux at the point) shot it, I just wasn’t expecting it to kick that sharply.
"It was definitely not what you want to see but Aucoin made a great play to put it in. To have it happen like that is kind of frustrating. We’ve had a lot of five-on-threes and can’t seem to get a break like that."
Said penalty-killer Jason Jaffray: "We couldn’t have played that any better. I won both the faceoffs I took. We iced it twice. They iced it once themselves. Right when you think you’ve got it killed, I had the shooting lane on Giroux and he missed the net and I think watching the replay, Max (Fortunus) even had a shot to clear that puck and it just jumped over his stick."
The obvious too-many-men call was still stinging.
"Yeah, that’s all between the ears," Schneider said. "You can live with a hard hit they call, or guys battling and take a penalty. You can kill those off. But the ones where you’re not thinking, or whatever happens with a bad switch, those are the ones that are frustrating and usually the ones that seem to cost you."
The Moose had their own five-on-three earlier in the game — granted, only 25 seconds — but didn’t score, then they had that edge with 28.9 seconds left in the game and again, couldn’t solve Michal Neuvirth in the Hershey net.
"I’m going to say I was sweating a little bit and my mouth was getting dry," Bears coach Bob Woods said. "Manitoba, they came on hard in the last six minutes, we couldn’t get it out of our end and we took the penalties.
"Again, our penalty killers got the job done and Neuvy had some big saves."
And Aucoin, the Bears’ 96-point centre in the regular season, earned praise for his first goal of the series.
"I thought he was great tonight," Woods said. "He had more shots than he had half the season. Every time he got the puck on his stick he made something happen. It’s another guy that’s hungry. He wants that Cup more than anything."