Moose choose the latter

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:59 AM ET

Must win.

They are two of the most overused words in sports, but there was a notable element of truth attached to them on Friday night as the Manitoba Moose took on the Rochester Americans in Game 2 of the best-of-seven American Hockey League North Division final at Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial in Rochester, N.Y.

Entering the game down 1-0 and dealing with the plain-and-simple fact the Moose would have been up 1-0 were it not for four elementary errors that ended up in the back of their net, some wondered how this group would respond to the monumental task that was ahead of them.

There were essentially two options.

Either the Moose would succumb to the bitter disappointment, come unglued, return home and be left to wonder what might have been, or they would bounce back the way they had so many times this season.

Not surprisingly, the Moose chose the latter and now we've got a knock-em-down, drag-'em-out series on our hands with the next three games set for the MTS Centre, beginning tomorrow at 7:35 p.m..

Another hotly-contested series that will be decided by the usual elements: discipline, good goaltending, attention to detail, sound execution, special teams, stars players doing what they do best and unlikely heroes emerging from the shadows to provide a much-needed shot in the arm.

The Moose touched nearly all of the bases on Friday night, making an important statement in the opening minute.

Peter Sarno, who led the Moose in scoring during the regular season and was second in the AHL in assists, couldn't have picked a better time for his first goal of the post-season.

Picking yourself up off the mat is never easy but by bending the twine 26 seconds in, Sarno sent a strong signal the Moose were not about to stay down for the count after enduring a heartbreaking defeat in Game 1.

Equally important, the early marker from Sarno took some pressure off the unit of Ryan Kesler, Lee Goren and Jeff Heerema, a trio that has been doing much of the heavy lifting on offence.

One-line hockey teams don't generally go far in the playoffs, so if Sarno, Josh Green and Justin Morrison can get on track, the Moose have two scoring lines and an energy line that can also produce, not to mention a fourth unit that could strike at any time.

There is room for improvement when it comes to special teams play but the Moose got a huge lift from their penalty killers on Friday. After giving up three goals in four chances (though one goal was into an empty net as the Moose pressed for the equalizer with an extra attacker) in Game 1, Manitoba killed off six opportunities against the top-ranked power play unit in the playoffs.

The Americans were equally effective playing a man down, applying enormous pressure and frustrating the Moose power play, which is now 0-for-9 in the series and 4-for-43 through seven games -- despite delivering three game-winning goals in the first round matchup with the St. John's Maple Leafs.

Last but not least, veteran goalie Wade Flaherty continues to be an unflappable presence between the pipes.

The reigning Calder Cup MVP rewarded Moose head coach Randy Carlyle for his confidence another time, turning aside all 31 shots that came his way to record his second shutout in his past three starts.

And so the series resumes, with the top road team in the AHL during the regular season facing a confident club that has won three consecutive games on home ice.

Game on.


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