WINNIPEG – Jason Jaffray didn’t need any extra motivation in his return to the Manitoba lineup – and he wasted no time making an impact on the final outcome.
Jaffray had one of three Moose goals in a 1:52 span of the second period as Manitoba cruised to a 5-2 win over the red-hot Syracuse Crunch in Game 4 of their AHL North Division semifinal Friday.
Jaffray returned to action for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury March 16. He was reunited with linemates Jannik Hansen and Brad Moran and the trio helped send the Crunch to their first regulation loss in 26 games.
“It took me a while to get started tonight,” Jaffray said. “I was a bit tentative until I got my mind back in the game. I was tired in the early going, but my legs began to feel better as the game went on.
“It’s not tough to get up for these kinds of games.”
Alexandre Bolduc and Michael Grabner also scored during the second period outburst, while Danny Groulx and Mike Brown, into an empty net, added singles as the Moose evened the series at two games apiece.
Derek MacKenzie and Joakim Lindstrom replied for the Crunch.
Game 5 will be played Saturday night in Winnipeg with the teams returning to Syracuse for the final two games Monday and Tuesday, if necessary.
Things became chippy in the game’s final seconds, when Syracuse left-winger Tom Sestito floored Manitoba netminder Cory Schneider with a punch after they came together in the Moose goal crease. After a few minutes, referee Kyle Rehman called the game in order to avoid a melee.
Sestito was assessed a match penalty for deliberate attempt to injure.
“Sure, there was lots of emotion in the game tonight,” said Moose head coach Scott Arniel, who didn’t seem upset at Sestito’s actions after the game. “What happened, that’s playoff hockey for you. “
The Crunch dominated play in the first period, outshot the Moose 16-8 and opening the scoring on the power-play at 11:26. Lindstrom unleashed a hard drive from the right faceoff circle and the puck caught the far corner and dropped into the net past Manitoba netminder Cory Schneider.
With just 10 seconds remaining in the first and the Moose enjoying a five-on-three advantage, defenceman Groulx fired a bullet from the centre of the left faceoff circle and beat Syracuse goalie Karl Goehring on the short side to tie the score.
Six seconds later, Derek MacKenzie took a foolish penalty when with the play stopped he skated by Alexandre Bolduc and slashed him hard on the leg sending the Moose forward to his knees. The Crunch centre was assessed a slashing minor and a misconduct for his actions.
Syracuse head coach Ross Yates lamented his team’s inability to maintain a good pace from start to finish.
“I thought that the first period was our best, at least for the first 17 minutes,” he said. “After that we lost our discipline and they took over.”
Schneider kept Manitoba in the game with a number of acrobatic saves, and the Moose rewarded his efforts with their second-period eruption.
Manitoba broke the 1-1 tie at 10:18 when Bolduc raced to the edge of the Crunch crease and converted a Max Fortunus corner pass.
Jaffray, out of the lineup since March 16th, picked up a loose puck off the faceoff and beat Goehring from directly in front with a wrist shot.
Grabner, on the power-play, then notched his third goal of the series beating Goehring from a sharp angle to complete the onslaught in a period in which Manitoba outshot Syracuse 15-7.
Derek MacKenzie cut into the lead late in the period, racing down the left side while Syracuse was on a penalty kill and beating Schneider high to the far side.
Brown scored into an empty net to ice the game at 18:58.