Moose OT win key to series

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:59 AM ET

A quick look at the numbers would suggest this was an upset of epic proportions.

The Manitoba Moose played the role of giant killers Friday night, ousting the AHL regular-season champion Rochester Americans from the Calder Cup playoff party.

Rochester posted 51 wins and 112 points and even swept the surging Hamilton Bulldogs in the opening round of the playoffs, but none of that matters now.

The Moose, who won 44 games and had 98 points, are off to the Western Conference final after winning the North Division title four games to one.

BEAT THE BEST

"You obviously have to beat the best to be the best and we took another step (Friday)," said Moose forward Lee Goren, who is second in AHL playoff scoring with nine goals and 12 points.

Americans captain Chris Taylor said the series turning point came in Game 3, when the Moose overcame a 4-2 deficit in the third period and won 5-4 in overtime.

"They came back to beat us and it was a tough situation -- I don't think we rebounded from that," said Taylor. "Emotionally, it was tough. Usually we were the team that was coming back and not giving up that kind of lead. When you do that in the playoffs, you start to lose confidence."

There would be no finger- pointing from Americans head coach Randy Cunneyworth but it would be pretty hard to deny the fact that veteran Wade Flaherty won the goaltending duel against top prospect Ryan Miller.

It was the second consecutive season that Flaherty was responsible for bouncing the Americans from the playoffs.

In 2004, Flaherty stood tall and gave up just four goals in the final three games as the Milwauee Admirals dumped the Americans in five games before moving on to win the Calder Cup.

Rochester had the best road record during the regular season at 24-11-1-4, but were unable to dent Manitoba's home-ice success in the post-season.

With the win Friday night, the Moose have now won eight consecutive games at the MTS Centre, including a perfect 6-0 record in the playoffs.

LACK OF SECONDARY SCORING

One of the biggest reasons the Americans were unable to send the series back to Rochester was a serious lack of secondary scoring.

Derek Roy had a strong series, scoring four goals and six points and Fargo, N.D., product Paul Gaustad had his moments (two goals, five points), but the Americans got minimal production from first-line wingers Jiri Novotny and former Brandon Wheat Kings sniper Milan Bartovic, who combined for two assists in the series after a strong showing against the Bulldogs.

There's no question injuries played a role in the series.

"It's not an excuse, it's reality," said Taylor.

Before the playoffs began, the Americans found out they would be without Jason Pominville, who had 30 goals and 68 points in 78 games.

Rookie sensation Thomas Vanek was limited to just one game in the second-round series.

Vanek, who had 42 goals, including a league-best 25 on the power play, and 68 points during the regular season, sat out the first two games with a groin injury he sustained in practice.

After returning for Game 3, Vanek was nailed with a open-ice hip check by fellow AHL all-rookie team member Kevin Bieksa.

Vanek's helmet was knocked off on the play and he sustained what was being reported as a concussion.

Things went from bad to worse in Game 4 as power forward Chris Thorburn, who sat out the entire first round with a shoulder injury, was knocked from the series by Moose centre Nathan Smith. Thorburn suffered a broken jaw on the play and flew home on Thursday.

The Americans were also without veteran blue-liner Brandon Smith, who missed Friday night's game for personal reasons.


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