WINNIPEG – Captain Mike Keane doesn’t think his Manitoba Moose teammates need a pep talk.
Even though the Moose have missed two opportunities to capture the best-of-seven AHL Western Conference final series against the Houston Aeros, Keane figures the third time may be the charm for a Game 6 victory at home Monday night.
“You just want to not worry about things so much and go out and play our game,” Keane said after the team arrived home following back-to-back overtime losses that left them with a 3-2 series lead.
“We’re playing really well right now so there’s not too much you have to change. We could have won those games, but we didn’t.
“It’s still a real positive attitude. We worked hard for home-ice advantage. Now we’ve got it back so we have to take advantage of it.”
The Moose were AHL regular-season champions for the first time in franchise history with a 50-23-1-6 record, which gave them home ice throughout the playoffs.
They defeated Toronto in six games in the first round, swept Grand Rapids in the second series and need to get by the Aeros to play in the franchise’s first Calder Cup championship final.
The Aeros (38-31-2-9) have been the surprise of the conference. They upset both Peoria and Milwaukee in Game 7 road wins and have clawed back after dropping the first three games against Manitoba.
Even though the tide seems to be turning against them, Moose head coach Scott Arniel believes his team can get it done.
“In that second period (Friday night), we took off and started to get after them and their goalie (Matt Climie) was big and he made some big stops,” said Arniel, whose team was down 3-0 after two periods in the 4-3 double-overtime loss.
“Momentum’s a funny thing. It can change over a course of a game, it can change over a period. We’re coming home to our building here where we’ve had success and get our crowd in behind us . . . and hopefully things go well.”
Houston head coach Kevin Constantine said he can’t predict the future, except to say he expects a battle from his players who never quit.
“This team’s personality this year has been that they’ve always hung in there,” Constantine said.
“Perseverance has kind of been one of our theme words during the year.”
Houston’s goaltending has twisted and turned in the past two games. When starter Anton Khudobin went out with a knee injury in Game 4, he was replaced by Nolan Schaefer, who’s coming back from a lower-body injury.
Instead of starting Schaefer on Friday night, the Aeros went with Climie, a Dallas Stars prospect who had only relieved Khudobin in three playoff games.
Constantine said Khudobin didn’t make the trip and the 26-year-old Climie is likely to get the start.
“We would probably be, right now, leaning toward Climie because of a good performance in Game 5 so I think we’ll go back to him,” he said.
Manitoba’s goaltending also isn’t set in stone.
Curtis Sanford got into his first playoff game of the season Friday, replacing AHL goalie of the year Cory Schneider to start the third.
Arniel said he has confidence in both netminders, but wasn’t ready to name his starter for Monday’s clash.
Sanford will go with the flow.
“Cory’s been playing excellent for this team so I don’t think we can really jump to conclusions at this point,” Sanford said.
“Just because a guy gets pulled, we can’t start pushing the panic button.”
Schneider knows he hasn’t been up to par the past two games, but he’s convinced he can bounce back.
“Whatever happens will happen, but I’m going to keep preparing like I’m going to be playing the rest of the playoffs,” Schneider said.
“I felt good (Friday), just one bad bounce and a nice play by them. I felt strong, it’s just sometimes pucks are finding ways in.
“But that’s part of a good goaltender, you’ve got to take that challenge and bounce back and be better the next night.”