TORONTO - Cory Schneider held the fort long enough for the red-hot Jason Jaffray to work his magic as the Manitoba Moose beat the Toronto Marlies 5-2 on Thursday in Game 5 of their American Hockey League North Division semifinal.
The Moose now head back to Winnipeg ahead 3-2. Their first of two chances to close out the series on home ice comes Saturday.
Jaffray scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner with just under 10 minutes left in third period, while Schneider turned aside 38 shots for Manitoba.
Schneider, who was stellar through two periods in facing 29 shots, gave his team a chance to win it in the third.
"Cory Schneider. We've got the best goalie in the league," Jaffray said. "He's held us in game after game for a lot of the season and it was nothing different tonight. We gave up a lot of scoring chances through the first 40 minutes and he stood on his head."
Some of Schneider's best work came when he stopped Darryl Boyce on a clear-cut breakaway and flashed a lighting-quick glove to deny Ryan Hamilton on a one-timer from in close.
For his part, the goalie believes he's only now hitting his groove, despite the fact he's frustrated Toronto shooters for the entire series.
"It's been a weird series, just some strange goals," Schneider said. "I feel like I really haven't hit my peak, and then finally tonight, I think it's the best I felt all series. It's a good time to be feeling this way and hopefully I can keep it going the next game."
Jaffray's pair of goals means he now leads the series with five.
"No complaints on my side. If they're going to start going in, it's a great time to catch fire," said Jaffray with a grin.
The Moose also got two goals and an assist from Jason Krog, while Guillaume Desbiens added a goal and two assists.
Jaffray's winner came after Krog forced Marlies defenceman Jonas Frogren to cough the puck up behind the Toronto net.
Jaffray snagged the loose puck and quickly slid it inside the far post past Marlies goalie Justin Pogge.
Just three minutes later, Krog scored his second goal on a strange play. With some traffic in front of Pogge, Krog threw the puck toward the net from the corner that bounced of a Marlies player and in.
Toronto, which got goals from Boyce and Anton Stralman, was never unable to claw back into the game after that.
"I don't know if Toronto just kind of got tired or what it was, but it seemed like we kind of caught our second wind in the third period when we needed it," Jaffray said.
"As soon as I got that third one, it just seemed like the next two came right back-to-back."
Desbiens scored with less than five minutes remaining to send the Ricoh Coliseum crowd of 2,416 home unhappy.
Manitoba coach Scott Arniel was pleased to see his team come through in the third after leaning so hard on Schneider to start the game. He praised his skilled players, including Jaffray, for doing what's expected of them.
"Jason Jaffray, I thought last game was the best player on the ice and tonight, in that third period, he really stepped up and made some plays," Arniel said.
"And that's what your top people have to do, Krog stepped up and scored two big goals. When your top people are your best people, it usually means you're going to have a good night."
The game was still in doubt as the teams entered the third tied at two after exchanging late goals in the second period.
Schneider's only miscue of the night came when he couldn't squeeze a long point shot from Jamie Sifers. The puck dropped right onto the stick of Boyce, who banged it in from the side of the net with just over two minutes left in the period.
But instead of taking a one-goal lead into the third, Toronto's defensive zone coverage broke down and Krog answered back 46 seconds later when he was left alone in front of Pogge. After taking a pass from Desbiens from the opposite point, Krog quickly deked to his backhand and stuffed the puck into the corner of the net.
Just like the second frame, the first period featured a late goal that tied the proceedings. That came when Stralman picked off a poor clearing attempt by Krog and fired a low, hard shot that eluded Schneider with just 54 seconds left in the opening period.
Jaffray got the game's first goal when he snapped a shot past Pogge six seconds into a Manitoba power play just over six minutes into the first period.
Notes: Left-winger Viktor Stalberg, 23, picked up an assist in his first pro game after signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs following his junior year at the University of Vermont. ... Pogge took his third minor penalty of the series in Game 5.