It took an entire 60 minutes to find a winner on Saturday, as the Moose came out of the gates rather sluggish. Although seemingly appearing lifeless and out of juice, Manitoba put together a strong third period, en route to a come-from-behind home victory, beginning their pursuit of the American Hockey League’s highest honour, the Calder Cup.
Game one of the Central Division Semifinal did not begin the way the Moose had imagined, as the home team was outshot heavily, and relied on 22-year-old goaltender Eric Comrie to shut the door on the opponents.
The Griffins put up 20 shots in the opening frame, but only found the twine once, on a Ben Street marker midway through the period. The Moose took eight shots of their own, but were unable to solve goaltender Tim McCollum.
There was no scoring in the second period, while the final frame provided most of the game’s offence. Jan Kostalek collected the first Manitoba goal of the series, knotting the game up at ones less than seven minutes into the third period with a booming point shot.
The game only remained tied for six minutes as Grand Rapids struck once again. But just half a minute after the visitors’ go-ahead goal, Chase De Leo helped set up Cameron Schilling with yet another equalizing strike.
With Winnipeg native and defending Calder Cup champion Dylan McIlrath in the penalty box for tripping, the Moose used their momentum gained to jump ahead of their opponents with just 1:09 to play.
AHL Rookie of the Year Mason Appleton gave the puck to the former captain of the Portland Winterhawks, Nic Petan, who found Michael Spacek all alone on the opposite side of the ice. Spacek wasted little time wiring home the game-winning goal, with the help of a great netminder screen.
The Moose picked up their first lead with just one minute remaining in the game, and nursed it out until the final horn. The win was Comrie’s first AHL playoff victory for Comrie, who turned aside 34 of 36 shots.
Now leading this Central Division Semifinal one-game-to-zero, the Manitoba Moose and Grand Rapids Griffins will once again meet up at Bell MTS Place on Sunday afternoon for the second game of the best-of-five series. Puckdrop is scheduled for 2:00 P.M. central time, and tickets are still available for purchase at the box office.
By Carter Brooks
Photos by James Carey Lauder