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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Moose stall. Wolves win 5-2

North Division leader met West Division leader, with the West Division Chicago Wolves coming out on top 5-2 over the Manitoba Moose at the Allstate Arena Wednesday night. Chicago was aided by a sputtering Moose offense and the failure of the opposition’s league leading penalty kill to show up on the ice, as well as outstanding goal tending by Fred Brathwaite.

The Chicago win comes with just seven games left in the Chicago season. The win puts the Wolves two points behind the Moose for the West Conference title. It also comes a night after the San Antonio Rampage defeated the Omaha Ak-Sar-Ben Knights, and on the night the Milwaukee Admirals lost to the Grand Rapids Griffins. Those two West Division losses help the Wolves secure their West Division first place standing. But the Wolves cannot relax yet.

The Moose, who at one point in the season won 17 of 18 games, are in a mini-slump, scoring only nine times in the last nine games. That was brought home Tuesday before the team’s loss to the Milwaukee Admirals when Coach Scott Arniel benched the team’s leading scorer, Jesse Schultz due to the winger’s “one-dimensional” play. Schultz had not scored a goal in 13 outings with the Moose. The ploy must have worked, as Schultz was back on the ice on Wednesday, with three shots on goal and a plus 1 rating.

In the first frame, a 5 on 3 power play resulted in a shot by Brad Moran that looked certain, but Brathwaite somehow stopped it and the Wolves were able to kill the penalty off. The Moose scored first on their former International Hockey League rivals, Michael Keane put a puck through the legs of Nathan Oystrick, picked it up after skating around Oystrick and shot past Brathwaite. Less than five minutes later, Chicago was given its own power play. The Chicago power play pitted one of the league’s best power play units against one of the league’s best penalty kill units. The power play ended with Jordan LaVallee popping the puck into the air, it landed on Drew MacIntyre’s skate and bounced in for the goal. End of period 1-1.

In the first minute of the second frame, Jason Krog put a shot from near the goal line that somehow found twine. 2-1 Wolves. Three minutes later Nathan Smith, just out of the penalty box, replied for the Moose with his own slap shot, making the game 2-2. With less than 90 seconds to go in the period, Brett Sterling was sprung from the sin bin. Exiting the box, he grabbed the puck on a fore check and passed it to Cory Larose. Larose threaded it through to Colin Stuart who one-timed it into the top of the net. Wolves 3-2.

In the final frame, the Moose made only five shots on goal. The Wolves Andre Deveaux was alone with the puck in front of the Moose crease. His shot went high. A penalty he drew led to another scoring opportunity. Off the resulting face-off, Jason Krog shot a blast that deflected off of defender Keane and through MacIntyre’s legs. Wolves 4-2. In the final second a Sterling shot rebounded to Darren Haydar who lit the final lamp. Final 5-2.

Brathwaite took the win with 26 saves. MacIntyre received the loss with 31 saves. Chicago’s power play was 2 for 4 on the night.

“We were sloppy,” Keane told the Winnipeg Sun, “we’re not getting the job done.”

Wolves coach John Anderson highlighted the game saying, “we played smart and didn’t make mistakes.”

The Wolves lead the West Division by three points over the Knights, with the Knights having three games in hand. Immediately behind Omaha is the Milwaukee Admirals, five points behind the Wolves. The Wolves face the Admirals on Friday night at the Milwaukee Bradley Center. The Admirals have dominated the series against the Wolves this season. A win would be a surprise and would be a key game in the season.

Wolves fans may be cheering for Iowa and Manitoba this weekend. Fourth place Iowa could firm up its place in the West, it holds its playoff spot by only two points against the Peoria Rivermen. Iowa plays Omaha Friday and Milwaukee Saturday. Manitoba plays Omaha Saturday in Nebraska.

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