Well-rested Moose shelled by Admirals

Manitoba drops series opener as Askarov stands tall in Milwaukee net


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Perhaps it was some unshakable rust acquired after a couple of weeks off, or a pair of netminders being thrust into a tough spot, but the Manitoba Moose didn’t have enough to begin the most critical time of the year.

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Perhaps it was some unshakable rust acquired after a couple of weeks off, or a pair of netminders being thrust into a tough spot, but the Manitoba Moose didn’t have enough to begin the most critical time of the year.

The Moose were stunned 6-2 by the Milwaukee Admirals in Game 1 of the American Hockey League’s Central Division semifinal at Canada Life Centre on Friday.

While players of the Winnipeg Jets’ AHL affiliate club made their intentions clear of avenging a 3-2 series defeat to the Admirals in last season’s Central Division semifinal, the same results haunted the team on this night.


Moose forward Cole Maier collides with Admirals goalie Yaraslav Askarov in AHL playoff action Friday night.

Moose goaltender Evan Cormier made his first playoff start as a professional on somewhat short notice, as regulars Oskari Salminen and Arvid Holm flew to Las Vegas on an emergency basis to practise with the Winnipeg Jets ahead of their Game 5 tilt in the NHL playoffs on Thursday.

Salminen and Holm wouldn’t return until Friday afternoon, hours before the Moose game began, leaving Cormier to lead the way and Holm to serve as the backup. That would last all of 8:26, though, as Cormier was chased from his crease after allowing three goals on seven shots to open the game.

Five different players scored for the Admirals on a night the Moose paced the shot total 37-24. Jansen Harkins and Daniel Torgersson provided the sparse offence for the Moose.

“I don’t think we were too rusty,” said head coach Mark Morrison. “Two chances against in the period wasn’t a big deal. I thought we battled hard for all 60 minutes and, probably, a little but of rust in not putting the puck in the back of the net, but I gotta give their goalie credit, as well. I thought he played well.”

It didn’t take long for this one to get out of hand.

Despite the Moose outshooting the Admirals by three (11-8) in the opening period, it was the visitors who held a three-goal advantage before the frame had reached its midpoint.

The first punch came from Admirals defenceman Marc Del Gaizo, who took a drop pass in the high slot and stepped into his shot, sending a howitzer over Comier’s left shoulder to draw first blood just 95 seconds into the game.

While the Moose managed to apply periods of sustained pressure throughout the period, they simply couldn’t best Admirals goaltender Yaraslav Askarov. The Admirals netminder, who stopped 35 of 37 shots and had moments of pure brilliance, especially in the final frame, showed why he’s one of the brightest young stars outside the National Hockey League.

The Admirals struck again nearly six minutes later, this time on the power play, as Zach Sanford flashed open in the slot and wired a one-timer over Comier’s shoulder to double the visitors’ lead.

The Admirals carried over their dominance on special teams from the regular season, which saw them finish with the league’s top power play (24.6 per cent) and third-best penalty kill (84.3 per cent) units. The visitors were two-for-three with the man advantage and four-for-four on the penalty kill on Friday.

“They scored a good play to the bumper there, great shot — you can’t be that wide open,” said defenceman Nicholas Jones. “And then a five-on-three. It’s hard to put yourself down on a five-on-three and expect good results. They have a great power play but we also have a really good penalty kill so for them to go two-for-three, we got to sharpen up for the next game.”

A third goal just 55 seconds later by Jimmy Huntington left the Moose in disarray and chased Cormier from the crease. Holm jumped into action and didn’t fare much better, however, allowing three goals on 17 shots the rest of the way.

While the Moose bested the Admirals four times in the regular season (4-2-1-1), this wasn’t the same team visiting for a playoff duel. The Nashville Predators returned seven players to its affiliate squad ahead of the post-season, injecting a slew of talent into the Admirals lineup.

The closest the Moose would get was within two goals at the beginning of the second period when Dominic Toninato sprung Harkins on a breakaway. Harkins finished the play with a perfect shot over Askarov’s left pad.

“I liked how we stuck together as a group,” Morrison said. “I liked that we stuck together physically and I like that we stuck together with the game plan. You didn’t see anybody trying to go solo and do things on their own. Everybody kept to the game plan and we kept working away right until the last buzzer.

“It’s a best-of-five for a reason and we’ll see how this goes.”

The Moose and Admirals are back in action for Game 2 at Canada Life Centre on Sunday at 2 p.m. before the remainder of the series shifts to Milwaukee.

Twitter: @jfreysam

Joshua Frey-Sam

Joshua Frey-Sam

Joshua Frey-Sam happily welcomes a spirited sports debate any day of the week.

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