WINNIPEG – The Manitoba Moose were given a much-needed rest Thursday, knowing full well the next break they get could be a much longer one.
Hamilton earned a 5-4 double-overtime win over the Moose on Wednesday, giving the Bulldogs a 3-1 lead in their American Hockey League North Division best-of-seven semifinal.
With his team facing elimination Friday in Winnipeg, Moose head coach Scott Arniel elected to cancel Thursday’s practice and meetings.
“Double overtime (Wednesday), I’m not going to get anything out of them today,?Arniel said. “We’ll come back (Friday) and we’ll sort of get our brains cleared up. I want them 100 per cent Friday night.”
It will take everything the Moose have to keep the series going against the heavily favoured Bulldogs.
Hamilton finished atop the Western Conference, 28 points better than Manitoba. The Bulldogs’ 60 points off road wins was an AHL record, and they broke 31 franchise records and tied six others.
Hamilton cruised to 2-0 and 8-2 home victories to open the series, while the Moose rebounded with a 7-2 win in Game 3 in Winnipeg.
Manitoba scored four times against goalie Cedrick Desjardins in Wednesday’s second period to mount a 4-2 lead. It was 4-3 heading into the third until winger Mike Glumac tied the game with his second goal at 12:19.
Hamilton defenceman P.K. Subban completed the comeback at 6:05 of the second overtime period. His point shot hit two Moose sticks and went by goalie Cory Schneider.
Hamilton rookie head coach Guy Boucher predicted before the series began that it would be a battle that could go the distance, and maybe even double or triple overtime in the seventh and deciding game.
The AHL coach of the year wasn’t about to change his tune, even after Wednesday’s victory.
“I really don’t want to look at eliminating somebody,” said Boucher, who also gave his players Thursday off. “For me, it’s not about a series. It never is and it never was this year. It’s really about (being) ready when the puck drops, to be solid in ourselves and, when the buzzer rings at the end, we’ll see where we’re at.
“When you focus on results, you get anxiety, especially at this time of the year. For us, it’s all about task. The task has got to be clear so that we don’t open up a bit like we did in the second period.”
Manitoba, which lost last year’s Calder Cup Final to the Hershey Bears in six games, has a glut of young skaters this season because of injuries and call-ups to the Vancouver Canucks.
Arniel said he hopes his players will recognize the good things they’ve done in the series and bounce back Friday.
“If they don’t believe they can win against these guys then I’m not sure what we’re going to do,” said Arniel, the 2008-09 coach of the year. “There is some youthfulness there, but in saying that sometimes not having the experience can be a good thing.
“This is all new to them and they don’t know any better and they just go out and play, so that’s what I’m hoping they do. We’ve got to win three. … so that’s where we’re at.”
Manitoba’s late additions of Anaheim Ducks forward Dan Sexton and rookies Kevin Clark and Jordan Schroeder?who scored a hat trick in Game 3?give the Moose more speed and Boucher said his team is trying to make the necessary adjustments.
“They’re lethal right now,” Boucher said.?They’re tough to beat and it’s going to take every little penny of change that we’ve got in our wallet here to make sure that we keep up with them.”
Subban is up for the challenge.
“We know that they’re going to come out with their best game again,” said Subban. “It?s going to take our ‘A’ game to beat them.?
Moose veteran captain Mike Keane was positive after Wednesday’s loss.
“We’re still confident,” Keane told a reporter after the game. “It’s a deep hole, but we have to concentrate on Friday.”