ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The Hamilton Bulldogs stuck to their game plan against a desperate Manitoba Moose team, and it paid off in a big way.
Grant Stevenson scored in overtime as the Bulldogs advanced to the second round of the American Hockey League playoffs with a 3-2 win over the Moose on Sunday.
Stevenson’s series-clinching goal came at 8:49 in overtime when he received a pass from the corner of Manitoba?s zone from Ryan Russell. The pass missed his stick, but deflected off his skate and trickled past Manitoba goaltender Cory Schneider.
“We knew we were playing well, and we just had to continue getting shots,” said Stevenson, who scored his first goal of the playoffs. “Our main focus was that we didn’t want to sit back. We wanted to force them to make plays and turnovers and capitalize on them.”
The Bulldogs won the best-of-seven North Division semifinal 4-2. Hamilton will face the winner of the series between Abbotsford and Rochester in the division final. Game 7 of that series goes Tuesday in Rochester, N.Y.
Manitoba forward Yan Stastny opened the scoring for the Moose at 4:03 in the first period, capitalizing on a short-handed two-on-one break with Guillaume Desbiens.
The Bulldogs failed to take advantage of two power play opportunities in the first period, before David Desharnais scored his third goal of the series to even the score at one apiece. Desharnais’ power-play goal came with just under two minutes left in the first period.
The Moose responded quickly in the second period, with forward Peter Olvecky scoring his third goal of the playoffs over Hamilton goaltender Cedrick Desjardins, who was left sprawling on the ice.
Olvecky had been one of the Moose’s top-producing forwards throughout the series, recording six points in six games.
The Bulldogs appeared to even the score on a mad scramble in front of the Moose net, but forward Andrew Conboy’s goal was disallowed due to interference in the crease.
Bulldogs head coach Guy Boucher said he was happy with how his team responded against a gutsy Moose team.
“It took everything we had to beat these guys. They played a tremendous series,” said Boucher. “Our motto was, ‘when in doubt, attack.'”
Schneider looked sharp through two periods, turning away 26 of Hamilton’s 28 shots.
Hamilton’s power-play unit struck again on the team’s sixth opportunity of the night, with Ryan White evening the score at 15:26 of the second period. Defenceman P.K. Subban registered his second assist of the night on the play. He how has nine points in six playoff games.
“I don’t think I’m really too focused on how I’m playing, it’s all about how the team is doing,” Subban said. “At the same time, I have to do what’s going to help the team. If that means I have to make things happen on the power play, then that’s what I’ll do.”
After opening the series with back-to-back wins on home ice, the Bulldogs dropped Game 3 in Winnipeg by a score of 7-2. Hamilton rallied with an overtime win on Wednesday evening, defeating the Moose 5-4. Friday’s 5-2 win by the Moose forced Game 6 in Hamilton.
“Our goal at the beginning of the series was to wear them down,” Boucher said. “I think today we added a new aspect of our game, we were very physical today. That goes for the bigger guys, but the smaller guys were physical too, and that made a difference for us.”