Turns out a desperate Manitoba Moose team is also a dangerous one. And the hockey club will live to see at least another game after rallying to beat the Milwaukee Admirals 5-2 on Wednesday night at Canada Life Centre to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The top affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets began the night in a big hole, down 2-0 in the best-of-five series. And the task got even more daunting when the visitors opened the scoring just 21 seconds in, then added another before the first period was complete.
I think some unfortunate bounces led to us being down to start that game. We were a little tight in the first. I think when we came in to re-group in the intermission, the focus was just on relaxing, knowing theres a lot of hockey left and this games not over, said forward Jeff Malott.
Indeed. Rather than go quietly into the night and allow a strong overall season to end with a whimper, the Moose stormed back with three straight tallies in the middle frame, then added two more for good measure in the third to skate away with the biggest victory of the year in front of 4,832 satisfied customers.
Theyll need more of where that came from. Game 4 goes Friday night at the downtown rink. Game 5, if necessary, would go Sunday afternoon.
Morgan Barron, fresh off opening plenty of eyes with the Jets after coming over from the New York Rangers organization in the Andrew Copp trade, gave his club a much-needed boost when he scored his second goal of the series at 3:52 of the middle frame. Manitoba, which had gone 0-for-6 on the power play in two tough-luck losses in Milwaukee, finally cracked the code on their first man advantage of the night. David Gustafsson won a key faceoff and got the puck back to Ville Heinola, who fed Barron for the one-timer.
A nice weight off the shoulders, said Malott. You could feel the energy of the building kind of pick up as well.
Malott, the clubs leading scorer during the regular-season, tied the game at 9:22, a dozen seconds after another Milwaukee penalty had expired. A tired Admirals crew couldnt clear the zone, and Malott was set-up by the defence tandem of Declan Chisholm and Leon Gawanke for a shot that went through traffic and beat Logan Cooley.
The dynamic blue-line duo of Chisholm and Gawanke then teamed up to give the Moose its first lead of the series, once again on the power play. Chisholm found a wide-open Gawanke, who navigated a cluster of net-front bodies to get the puck through at 17:30. That would turn out to be the game-winner.
That was one of our strategies, to get in his eyes, Gawanke, who led all Moose defencemen in scoring during the regular-season, said of the sea of humanity in front of the Milwaukee goal.
That was Manitobas sixth goal of the series, and Chisholm (one goal, four assists) and Gawanke (one goal, three assists) had a hand in nearly all of them. Along with Heinola, Dylan Samberg and Johnathan Kovacevic, the Jets organization have five strong prospects ripening on the vine. All but Gawanke had looks with the Jets this past season.
The Moose kept coming in the final frame, as Nicholas Jones (9:11) and Luke Johnson (12:38) gave the home team some additional breathing room. It was especially sweet for Johnson, who broke his leg on two different occassions this year and missed a major chunk of the regular-season.
Special teams were a big factor, as Manitoba went 2-for-4 on the power play, while Milwaukee was a woeful 0-for-7 with the man advantage.
We knew our power play, both units, had to step it up. That we had to make a difference, said Gawanke.
Manitoba soundly outplayed Milwaukee in the first two games including an 86-37 shot advantage yet somehow werent rewarded for that. A big reason was the play of Cooley, who was only in net because No. 1 goaltender Connor Ingram had been called up to Nashville when Juuse Saros went down with an injury.
Ingram, who started Games 2, 3 and 4 against the Avalanche, was returned to the club on Tuesday after the Predators were swept in four straight. But he was stapled to the bench on Wednesday, as coach Karl Taylor opted to keep playing the hot hand.
Cooley, who stopped 83 of 86 shots in the first two games, made 30 saves on 35 shots in this one. You wonder if Ingram might assume his previous duties going forward? At the other end, Mikhail Berdin made 21 saves for the Moose, and even added a bid for an empty-net goal in the final minutes, only to have his shot attempt intercepted by a Milwaukee defender at his own blue-line.
I thought he was really good, said coach Mark Morrison. There was two or three really big saves that he made for us that kept us on the offence and kept us in front. Especially with the start like that, I thought he re-grouped really well and showed a little bit of maturity.
Milwaukee did have two new skaters in the lineup as a result of demotions from the ousted parent club.
Cody Glass, the Winnipeg product who was the first-ever draft pick of the Vegas Golden Knights, then traded last year to Nashville, opened the scoring for the Admirals. The other, Mathieu Olivier, only hit the scoresheet by way of a coincidental roughing minor when he and Barron got involved in a late second-period fracas.
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.