Playoff party has new rink rocking

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:39 AM ET

They came wearing Team Canada jerseys, sweaters from their favourite NHL team or Manitoba Moose colours.

Some stuck Canadian flags to their caps, a nod to the fact the Moose are the only professional team still playing in this country.

Others painted their faces, or wore white, a tribute to the days of the Jets.

Regardless of what they looked like, they made noise, shaking the new downtown arena like a rock-show crowd.

Only these were pro hockey fans, 15,015 strong, screaming as the national anthem wound down and cheering every hit, save and big goal for the next 2 1/2 hours like they haven't cheered in years.

After a nine-year hiatus, a species many believed to be extinct is obviously back.

Anyone still doubting that this morning wasn't at last night's Moose playoff game, where the local AHL side was trying to do something it had never done before: win a second consecutive, best-of-seven series.

Normally, the crowd isn't the story. But with this city's hockey history -- the loss of the NHL's Jets in 1996, and the subsequent nine-year struggle by the Moose to gain the respect of a bitter, cynical sports town -- it was last night.

From the first hit to the final minute, when the fans presented the Moose with a standing ovation for a well-deserved, 5-2 victory, the atmosphere was reminiscent of NHL playoff seasons past.

That the Moose actually thrived on this electrically-charged air, and didn't choke on it, only made the night that much more memorable.

Not that they didn't face a little adversity along the way.

The all-important first goal, for instance, went to Rochester, on the Americans' second power play of the night.

Manitoba's Jesse Schultz tied it less than four minutes later, but the Moose fell behind again before the first period was up.

That's when a fellow named Green became pure money in the bank.

Moose forward Josh Green, a former NHL first-round draft choice from Camrose, Alb., may not be the brightest NHL prospect anymore, at 27.

But Green showed why he does have 232 NHL games under his belt, firing three straight second-period goals to put his team in control, at 4-2, and send the crowd into delirium.

A one-timer on a perfect power-play feed from Danny Groulx started things off. Green's waste-high deflection of a Kent Huskins point shot 18 seconds later really got the joint jumping.

He didn't need any help finishing the natural hat trick, either, intercepting a clearing pass along the boards, moving to the top of the faceoff circle and blasting a rising shot past a shell-shocked Ryan Miller in the Rochester net.

The hecklers in the crowd had a field day with the AHL's goalie-of-the-year after that.

Green Day might not play this building for a couple more days, but this was certainly Green's night.

It even had its very own American Idiot, as Rochester's Paul Gaustad lost his cool and jumped Moose winger Justin Morrison, then pushed a linesman, during a third-period fracas.

But the Moose, the taste of victory in their mouths, weren't about to lose their cool, or their focus.

With captain Nolan Baumgartner blocking shots like it was the Stanley Cup final and the Manitoba penalty killers playing like a unit possessed -- defusing a lengthy 5-on-3, at one point -- the Moose made the AHL's top regular-season team look ordinary.

Get this: Rochester had just three shots on goal in the third period.

A fitting capper to the evening was Winnipegger Lee Goren powering his way to the net to shovel in his ninth goal in 10 playoff games.

So get your jerseys, hats and flags ready for another series, hockey fans.

Oh, and bring your lungs, too.

Definitely, bring your lungs.


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