WINNIPEG -Their longest season ever finished with the same kind of frustration Friday at the MTS Centre — the Manitoba Moose lost their last game.
This one was a little different but hurt no less, losing 4-1 to the Hershey Bears in Game 6 of the Calder Cup championship series, ending the best-of-seven series with a 4-2 Hershey edge.
It was the Bears’ 10th AHL championship, which was not what the partying, sold-out crowd of 15,003 came to see.
The Moose, in existence only 13 seasons and only eight in the AHL fell two wins short of their first-ever championship by self-destructing in Friday’s first period.
The visitors pumped the error-prone Moose for three goals in the first 11:16 of action, a perfect solution to neutralizing the largest crowd of these playoffs.
Hershey then coasted to the finish, keeping the Moose at bay to claim its second title in four years. The Bears last won in 2006, dousing the Milwaukee Admirals right in Milwaukee in the sixth game of that series.
One big reason the Bears outran the Moose in this final was special teams.
Manitoba didn’t have a power-play goal after Game 2 of this series, a stellar accomplishment for Hershey’s penalty-killing, which was ranked dead-last in the regular season.
The Moose didn’t get their first opportunity until the final minute of Friday’s second period and when they could have desperately used a goal going into the intermission, Hershey was better again.
When the advantage carried over for 1:17 into the third, Manitoba didn’t get a single shot on goal out of the chance.
It all started badly for the home side, with an inattentive play behind his own goal by defenceman Nolan Baumgartner. The veteran blueliner didn’t see an easy puck coming at him in time, it sailed past and eventually wound up in front of the Manitoba net for Kyle Wilson, who roofed his fourth of the playoffs.
Just more than two minutes later, junior-aged Cody Hodgson made a crucial error by flubbing a pass into the middle coming out of his own zone, and that immediately turned into Chris Bourque’s screen-shot goal at 6:10.
And if 2-0 wasn’t bad enough, later in the period, Moose forward Guillaume Desbiens tried to set up Baumgartner in the offensive zone but the pass was tipped to the neutral zone and Alexandre Giroux, the most dangerous man in the playoffs, skated in on a breakaway and deposited his league-leading 15th playoff goal behind Moose starter Cory Schneider.
There were still more than 48 minutes to play in the game but the crowd was simply in agony.
It wasn’t until halfway through the second period until they found something to celebrate.
During a delayed penalty to Hershey, Hodgson atoned for his earlier error by helping to set up rookie Mario Bliznak with a perfect pass in the slot. Bliznak made no error, whipping a shot past the glove of Hershey goalie Michal Neuvirth.
And the Moose had some life after that, probably wishing that top centre Jason Krog had buried a glorious chance on a two-on-one later in the period. Neuvirth stopped that low attempt with a solid slide across his crease.
The Bears, who finished second in attendance in the playoffs (116,095-90,929) and the series (44,743-32,295), iced the puck several times in the third but were strong enough to keep the Moose away from Neuvirth for too many uncontested chances.
The Moose did press, with some help from the crowd, but had no more finish, even on their last power play with 4:03 to play when Jay Beagle shot the puck into the crowd.
Keith Aucoin then fired into the empty net with 20.2 seconds to play.