HERSHEY, Pa. – On the brink of elimination in the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup final, the Manitoba Moose face a daunting task to keep their season alive.
Keith Aucoin’s third-period power-play goal helped the Hershey Bears nudge past the Moose 2-1 on Sunday to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Bears can clinch their 10th Calder Cup in team history on Tuesday when they host Game 5.
The Moose need a victory to extend their season and must do so against a Hershey club that is 9-1 at home in the playoffs. Only three clubs in Calder Cup history have rallied from 3-1 down to take the title.
“Now, it’s all about getting back to Winnipeg (for Game 6),” Moose coach Scott Arniel said in describing his club’s mindset. “We’re going to have to be a team that gets after them and gets back to playing with confidence and back to playing the game that we’ve played all year long.”
“It’s like a Game 7,” Manitoba captain Mike Keane said.
For their part, the Bears have an opportunity to win their first Calder Cup on home ice since 1980.
“We don’t want to have to go back to Manitoba,” said Hershey coach Bob Woods. “We want to take care of business right now. We’re probably going to see the best Manitoba team we’ve seen all series.”
Aucoin broke a 1-1 tie in the third period after the Moose got into penalty trouble against one of the AHL’s best power-play units. Veteran defenceman Nolan Baumgartner took a hooking penalty that was followed 55 seconds later by a bench minor for too many men on the ice.
Manitoba managed to kill off all but two seconds of the 5-on-3 before a Bears point shot bounced off the end boards to Aucoin, who swatted the rebound past Moose goalie Cory Schneider at 7:17.
“Sometimes when you miss the net, you get a good bounce and these boards are really lively,” Schneider said of the goal.
A playmaker on the Bears’ top line, Aucoin took advice from a teammate’s father is also a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“Ray Bourque (father of Hershey teammate Chris Bourque) told me to shoot more (Saturday) night at dinner, so I decided I had better shoot tonight,” Aucoin said.
Schneider and Hershey goalie Michal Neuvirth continued their stingy play in another tightly checked game. Schneider turned in a 31-save performance while Neuvirth faced 31 Moose shots and delivered several big stops late in the third period during a Manitoba 5-on-3 advantage.
Manitoba’s Ray Sawada gave the visitors their first lead on Hershey ice in the series when he converted Jason Jaffray’s feed and one-timed a shot low past Neuvirth 11 minutes into the first.
Hershey countered in the second period when centre Kyle Wilson fired a shot from in close over Schneider’s shoulder to tie the game 1-1 at 5:11.
Notes: After recording three assists over the first two games of the series in Winnipeg, Jason Krog has gone scoreless on the road. . . . Arniel broke up his top line, swapping Jaffray for bruising grinder Guillaume Desbiens. . . . Alexandre Bolduc and Dusty Collins returned from injury for the Moose. Arniel scratched top prospect Cody Hodgson and winger Matt Pope to accommodate the additions. . . . Game 4 drew a sell-out crowd of 10,739. The teams have sold out three of the opening four games.