Up against the best

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

It didn't take Manitoba Moose boss Randy Carlyle long to establish the ground rules for his team's next AHL playoff series.

You'll recall how, in the days leading up Manitoba's first-round set against St. John's, Carlyle compared the Maple Leafs' chippy style of play to a pack of rats.

Sure enough, the theme held true, as the Moose took advantage of the Leafs' lack of discipline to take the series in five games.

Yesterday, as he prepared for Round 2 against the Rochester Americans, Carlyle was talking about dogs.

As in, underdogs.

This time, though, he was talking about his team. If you missed it the first time, he was more than happy to repeat it.

In fact, if you listened to Carlyle long enough, you would have sworn the Americans were the second coming of the Canadiens, late-1970s vintage.

"We were fortunate enough to get by St. John's, and now we take on the best team in the league," Carlyle was saying. "Obviously those are going to be difficult games. Their record is not something they accomplished by smoke and mirrors. They've done a heck of a job. They've got a great hockey club."

A minute later, Carlyle was talking about the confidence the Moose gained by dismantling St. John's -- but only for a nanosecond. Soon, he was reminding everyone how good Rochester is.

"We can't reflect back on the last series, because it's history," he said. "The next big step for our hockey club is to play the Rochester Americans, who are the best team in the league. We have to make sure we are at the top of our game in all aspects to have a chance to compete with them."

So, coach, exactly how good are these guys?

"The best team in the league," Carlyle said, completing the three-peat. "112 points. Four solid lines. The goaltender of the year. Do you want me to continue?"

Sure, why not? You're on a roll.

"They've got everything. I guess you could call it the full meal deal. It's unique to have a hockey club that's been able to perform at the level which they've been able to perform at.

"You don't look at them and say they're a bunch of superstars, but they've got superstar-type stats. They're well-coached, they're well-disciplined, and they're strong in every area. They can really make you pay."

Geez, maybe the Moose shouldn't have bothered getting on the plane this morning. I mean, they're obviously going to get killed in Games 1 and 2, tomorrow and Friday.

Of course, you know what's really going on here.

Carlyle is simply employing one of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to playoff mind games: make the other team sound as good as you can before the series, then make them look as bad as you can during it.

Maybe you catch them by surprise. Maybe it takes some of the pressure off your team.

Or maybe it's just a waste of time.

Because the players weren't even buying into the coach's shtick yesterday.

"I don't think we are an underdog," Moose forward Ryan Kesler said. "We're pretty evenly matched. We beat them twice, they beat us twice, and the times they beat us were close games."

Over to goalie Wade Flaherty, who shrugged off the underdog label the way he shrugged off every St. John's scoring chance the other night.

"I don't really know. I guess you can say that," Flaherty began, sounding a little less convincing than Carlyle. "Everybody starts (playoffs) with a clean slate. I don't really look at us as underdogs or them as favourites."

This one's obviously going to be a tougher sell than the rat tag was for the Leafs.


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