WINNIPEG - Tired of winning playoff games in nerve-wracking fashion, the Manitoba Moose put the Houston Aeros away early.
Michael Grabner scored twice to lead the Moose to a 5-2 win over the Aeros in the American Hockey League Western Conference final Saturday in front of an MTS Centre crowd of 9,736. The Moose will take a 2-0 series lead to Houston for Game 3 on Monday.
"We talked about it before the game. We said we had to do better and no more of those 2-1 and 3-1 games. They're hard on the nerves," said Moose forward Jason Jaffray.
Jason Krog, Raymond Sawada and Cody Hodgson also scored for the Moose.
"Our offensive guys tonight were the top guys on our team," said Moose head coach Scott Arniel. "That line of Jason Jaffray, Jason Krog, and Grabner were outstanding. All three of those guys were getting a lot of attention (from Houston)."
J.P Testwuide and Marco Rosa replied for the Aeros.
Cory Schneider stopped 28 shots in the Moose net and recorded his ninth consecutive win in the playoffs.
Schneider was especially spectacular when the Moose ran into a pair of early penalties in the first period.
"You get that kind of goaltending and you're going to win a lot of games," Arniel said. "Our penalty killers were equal to the occasion too. Your goaltender is your first line of defence. Once we got that first goal by Krog it changed the momentum".
Houston's Anton Khudobin got the hook after 20 minutes, making nine saves on 12 shots. Nolan Schaefer came on in relief and turned aside 18 of 20 shots in the final two periods.
Houston head coach Kevin Constantine wasn't especially critical of Khudobin following his 15th start in 16 games.
"Anton has done a great job" he maintained. "I decided I wanted to change something. Nolan hasn't played much and Anton has been worked very hard. Once Schaefer got into the rhythm of the game he was fine. We like both of our goalies."
The Moose dominated the Aeros early on and led 5-0 into the first half of the second period.
At the 11:00 minute mark of the first, Krog's intended pass to Sawada deflected into the net off Houston defenceman Paul Albers.
Three minutes later, Moose defenceman Nolan Baumgartner unloaded a hard drive towards the net and Khudobin gave up a long rebound to Grabner, who shot the puck into the open net while the Aeros netminder was out of position.
At 17:49 the Moose made it 3-0 on the power play when Sawada found Alexandre Bolduc's rebound in front of a crowded net and put it by Khudobin.
The Moose wasted little time scoring in the second period. Hodgson scored his first AHL goal on a cross-ice pass from Krog that he wristed over the Schaefer's glove at 1:55. Just over two minutes later on the power play, Grabner was set up by Krog for his second of the game to make it 5-0.
Houston finally broke through when Testwuide took a backhand pass from John Lammers and fired the puck over Schneider's outstretched glove at 7:25 while the teams were playing four a side.
With 10 seconds remaining in the second, Rosa beat Schneider from the right faceoff circle with a high drive to make it 5-2 going into the scoreless third.
"Clearly they were better than us," Constantine said. "Exactly what I said would happen in Game 2 last night did.
"It's hard to come back from a 5-0 lead. I said yesterday that the second game was going to be harder on us than the first after the seven-game series against Milwaukee."