Moose in 7-game nail-biter

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

Contrary to popular opinion, this series doesn't feature David and Goliath.

When the American Hockey League North Division final gets underway tomorrow night at Blue Cross Arena, there is no question the Rochester Americans will be cast in the role of favourite and the Manitoba Moose as the underdog.

However, a closer look shows these teams are more evenly matched than a quick glance suggests.

Despite being divisional foes, the teams met just four times this season, with both clubs going 2-1-1-0.

Manitoba won twice at Rochester and Rochester won twice at Manitoba, while each team won once in overtime.

The Americans finished with a league-best 51 wins and 112 points, while the Moose finished with 47 wins and 98 points.

Both teams scored 243 goals, while the Americans gave up 208 and the Moose gave up 210.

FOR THE MOOSE TO WIN:

1. Veteran continues mastery: Goalie Wade Flaherty is coming off a solid opening round series and has history on his side when it comes to meeting the Americans. Flaherty gave up four goals in the final three games last season as the Milwaukee Admirals ousted the Americans. He'll need to steal a game or two for the Moose to advance.

2. Sarno shines: The skilled playmaker did set up the game-winning goal in the pivotal fourth game of the first-round series, but he'll need to register more than three assists against the Americans for the Moose to have a chance.

3. Operation shutdown II: The five-man unit of Ryan Kesler, Lee Goren, Jeff Heerema, Joe DiPenta and Tomas Mojzis was outstanding in the opening round, producing nine goals and 21 points, while limiting the opposition attack. That trend must continue.

FOR THE AMERICANS TO WIN:

1. It's Miller time: Ryan Miller won 41 games and had eight shutouts during the regular season to win the goalie of the year award, but the Buffalo Sabres netminder of the future needs to lead his team on a lengthy playoff run. The key is to eliminate the soft goals against.

2. Captain shows the way: Chris Taylor is a consummate professional, the Americans leader and often the straw that stirs the drink on the power play, which produced five of the 10 goals against Manitoba in the two wins.

3. Derek wins battle of Roy's: Moose forward Jimmy Roy is sure to get under the opponents' skin, but the same can be said for Rochester forward Derek Roy. If it's Derek and not Jimmy producing when the chips are down, the favourites should be in business.

Prediction: Some pundits, including yours truly, predicted the Americans might be prone to a first-round upset after limping into the playoffs with a 3-7 record during the final 10 games of the regular season. Rochester did dispatch the Hamilton Bulldogs in four straight games, but didn't play up to its full potential and needed to come from behind on all four occasions. Manitoba surprised by ousting the St. John's Maple Leafs in five games. A second round nail-biter is in the offing. Take the Moose in an exciting seven-game series as Flaherty outplays another top prospect.


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