HAMILTON - The Hamilton Bulldogs defence made sure Curtis Sanford's return from injury was as comfortable as possible.
Sanford made 19 saves in his first start of the season as the Bulldogs beat the Manitoba Moose 3-1 in American Hockey League action Tuesday night.
The Bulldogs (5-1-3) extended their point streak to seven games (4-0-3) before 2,468 fans at Copps Coliseum.
The Moose (5-5-0) lost their third in a row.
Sanford missed the first eight games of the season recovering from a fractured larynx suffered after being hit by errant shot in a practice.
The Bulldogs helped ease Sanford back into his routine by limiting the Moose to 20 shots, including just four in the third period.
"It was good to get a little bit of work right off the bat there, Sanford said. "The guys limited them to under ten shots each period so I thought the guys played great."
The rest of the Bulldogs were glad to get their starter back in net, including coach Randy Cunneyworth, who got his first look at Sanford from behind the Hamilton bench.
"I'm pleased with him stepping in a raising it to the level that he did," Cunneyworth said.
Hamilton opened the scoring on a power play late in the first period. Max Pacioretty took a feed from Aaron Palushaj and beat Manitoba's Eddie Lack through his legs.
Palushaj found Pacioretty in the middle of the box set up by Manitoba's penalty killers, a play the pair say they have been using since their days at the University of Michigan.
"Me and Palushaj actually played on the power play together in college and that was our play," said Pacioretty, who also had an assist. "We came up with in college and you find yourself open in the middle of the box a lot."
Cody Hodgson tied the game 1-1 in the second period. The Vancouver prospect buried puck past Sanford high blocker side on a cross-ice pass from Sergi Shirokov, who was in the right corner behind the goal-line.
Mathieu Carle put the Bulldogs back in front with a slapshot 1:10 in the third period. David Desharnais assisted on the goal, extending his point streak to nine games (three goals, 10 assists).
Palushaj capped the scoring with an empty-net goal.
Lack made 26 saves for Manitoba.
The Moose went 0-7 on the power-play and looked flat for the majority of the game, something the coach and players attributed to their play intended to ware out the defence.
"We knew they had another (defenceman) out and we knew we had to get pucks deep and tire out their (defence) and I really think it worked to our advantage," Pacioretty said.
The Bulldogs will host the Moose again Wednesday, but Cunneyworth is waiting to name his starter.
"We'll check (Sanford's) progress and how he's feeling and we'll have to address it in the morning," he said. "Obviously it would be a mistake if we were to throw him into the fire if he wasn't up to the task."
Sanford said he would be ready to go but wasn't expecting to play back-to-back games so soon.
"It's the coach's call," he said. "If he wants me in there then yeah, I'll play."