They're the last pro hockey team in Canada still at work and if the Houston Aeros were wondering what all the fuss is about the Manitoba Moose they got their answer Saturday night.
The Moose ripped off their ninth straight win in these Calder Cup playdowns with a glitzy 5-2 spanking of the Aeros before 9,736 long weekend hockey watchers at the MTS Centre.
Manitoba leads the best-of-seven Western Conference Final 2-0 with the series switching to Houston for Game 3 on Monday night. The Moose have not lost in the post-season since Game 3 of the first round, a 2-1 loss to the Toronto Marlies back on April 19.
"It's nice to get on a little bit of a streak in the playoffs," said Moose veteran Jason Jaffray. "The difference for us right now is when we had streaks during the season, we let bad habits creep into our game. That's not happening now. Even in this game, after the second period (captain Mike Keane) Keaner stood up and told us we have to be better in these spots. Not many teams have that kind of leadership. To be leading 5-2 and have someone make sure we keep on it. That kind of leadership is great to have."
The Aeros looked a touch spent on Saturday and with good reason, having played five games in the last seven nights and seven games in the last 11 days. The Moose have played just three games in the last nine days and the rest looks very good on them.
Houston promised to be a little more desperate in Game 2 after dropping Game 1 on Friday night in a tight 2-1 affair, but the Moose matched their emotion and then raised them in the energy department.
The result was a three-goal first period for the Moose and a 5-0 lead before the visitors got on the board.
"We were a lot sharper. Much sharper," said Moose coach Scott Arniel. "We got into a little penalty trouble early and that made it difficult for us to get going but once we did, everyone was going. All four lines. That was Moose hockey."
Manitoba's key contributors, Jason Krog, Jason Jaffray and Michael Grabner were sharp from the outset, but it was the Moose depth on display that really impressed. Soon after the top line had opened the scoring and pushed back the Aeros, the second wave of offence came rushing in and the likes of bruising power forward and second-game rookie Cody Hodgson added their input.
Houston will now have the comforts of home and last change to help their cause, but finding a way to shut down a four-line offence will be the biggest riddle for the Texas team.
Manitoba's Krog scored first as he attempted to hit big Sawada in the slot but the puck found the stick of Houston's Paul Albers and wound up in the net for the slick centre's fifth of the post-season.
Grabner made it 2-0 for the home side as he grabbed a rebound off a Nolan Baumgartner blast and flipped the puck past Anton Khudobin for his second of the playoffs.
Sawada got another chance later in the first on the power play and this time he was able to jam a rebound into the Houston cage for his third of the playoffs and a bold 3-0 lead after the first frame.
Aeros coach Kevin Constantine sent Nolan Schaefer into the net for the second period and he quickly became trivia question fodder as Hodgson used a quick wrist shot off the post to pick up his first goal as a pro and give the Moose a 4-0 advantage.
Grabner added another to make it 5-0 and then J.P. Testwuide finally got Houston on the board as he was able to slap a rebound past Moose goalie Cory Schneider.
Aeros winger Marco Rosa added a goal before the second was over to close the gap to 5-2.
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