Moose march into second round
Series features teams playing best hockey
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/05/2018 (1860 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It looked like the Manitoba Moose may have peaked early. After all, a team once on top of the entire AHL standings appeared to be slip-sliding away as it came down the stretch — ravaged by injuries, call-ups and inconsistent play.
Dropping down to third in their division, their reward was a date with the defending Calder Cup champions in the first-round of the playoffs. An early exit seemed likely.
But then a funny thing happened. They won Game 1 with a dramatic, last-minute 3-2 comeback victory. After dropping Game 2, they pulled out a crucial Game 3 win on the road, then rebounded from a Game 4 shutout loss with a convincing Game 5 triumph in enemy territory.
Reports of their early demise, it would appear, were greatly exaggerated.
“I think during that series we learned some lessons, hockey-wise. I think that first round was huge. A really hard team to play against, they got under our skin a little bit, so I think we kind of learned that lesson early on in the playoffs,” captain Patrice Cormier said Wednesday following a team workout.
Now it’s on to the second round, where the Moose actually will have home-ice advantage beginning Friday night at Bell MTS Place. They’ll face the fourth-place team from the Central Division, the Rockford IceHogs, who pulled off an impressive three-game sweep of No. 1-seeded Chicago.
The IceHogs are loaded with plenty of young prospects who were up with the parent club, the Chicago Blackhawks, for parts of the season. The Moose, of course, have no such luxury with returning players, since the Winnipeg Jets are still very much alive in the quest for the Stanley Cup.
It should make for a compelling matchup, with the winner earning a berth in the Western Conference final against the winner of the Tucson-Texas series.
“You win a series, you’re pretty excited, you kind of want to get going again. Starting at home, hopefully, the fans are going, there’s kind of a buzz around the city,” said Cormier, who believes the Moose have fed off the momentum being built by the Jets this spring.
Winnipeg and Tampa are the only two organizations to have both their NHL and AHL teams still playing in the second round of their respective playoffs. That certainly speaks well to the depth that’s been built here.
“It’s fun to see both teams having success, that’s for sure,” Cormier said.
Perhaps nobody is having more fun than Chase De Leo. The third-year pro, selected by the Jets in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, is one of the few players on this year’s team who suffered through two ugly years in Winnipeg. The Moose missed the playoffs badly both seasons.
De Leo had an incredible first round, leading the Moose in scoring with two goals and five assists in five games. That’s a bit of a surprise from a player coming off a year where he scored 12 times and added 23 assists in 69 games.
“Obviously, it’s exciting whenever you can help the team contribute, but playoff time is all about winning… It doesn’t matter who’s the leading scorer or who gets points, who gets goals,” De Leo said Wednesday. “That’s the reason you play the game. You want to win that final trophy, keep competing as long as you possibly can. That’s the fun of it.”
Eleven different players scored against Grand Rapids for the Moose, who had to deal with suspensions to Buddy Robinson and Michael Spacek, plus an injury to leading scorer Mason Appleton.
Robinson and Spacek will be back to take on the IceHogs, while Moose head coach Pascal Vincent said Appleton is a possibility to play.
“I’m really proud of our guys, the way they battled. The way they stayed composed,” Vincent said Wednesday of getting by the Griffins in a series that featured plenty of nasty hits and plays, including two suspensions to Grand Rapids players and several injuries.
“Having contributions of different players in a series is re-enforcing that everybody has a voice, everybody has an importance to the hockey team,” said Vincent, who won the AHL coach-of-the-year award this season.
Manitoba and Rockford split their four-game series during the regular-season. The IceHogs are loaded with players who have NHL experience, led by defenceman Cody Franson.
“That helps, obviously this time of year, to have veteran guys,” De Leo said. “They’re a fast-paced team in Rockford, a lot of skill. Expecting another good series.”
And perhaps the best really is still come for this young Moose squad.
“I think whenever you go through adversity, it only makes you stronger,” De Leo said.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Thursday, May 3, 2018 7:47 AM CDT: Final