Cooley standing tall for Admirals

Photo: Scott Paulus

📝 by Patrick Williams

Two nights. Eighty-six shots.

Milwaukee Admirals goaltender Devin Cooley earned his Sunday off after two hectic starts.

The Manitoba Moose fired 86 shots at Cooley in the first two games of the teams’ best-of-five Central Division Semifinal series only to return home facing elimination. One night after Cooley made 40 saves in a 3-2 win in Game 1, he again fended off the Moose in Game 2 with a 43-save performance on Saturday in a 2-1 victory.

In all, the Moose outshot Milwaukee in the first two contests, 86-37, with Cooley earning first-star honors both nights.

The final three games of the series (if necessary) are set for Canada Life Centre in Winnipeg, beginning with Game 3 on Wednesday.

On Saturday night, Manitoba outshot Milwaukee 22-3 in the second period and 35-10 over the final 40 minutes, and all but one Moose skater registered at least one shot. They did not beat Cooley until their 44th (and ultimately last) shot of the evening with 1:29 to play, a Morgan Barron goal that tied the game.

Jimmy Huntington’s response with 46.0 seconds to go gave Milwaukee the win.

In his second pro season out of the University of Denver, the 24-year-old Cooley has emerged from Connor Ingram’s shadow this postseason, with a .965 save percentage thus far. Ingram, who played more minutes (3,195) than any other goaltender in the AHL this year, remains on recall to Nashville, where he has started the last two games of the Predators’ Stanley Cup Playoff series vs. Colorado.

“[Manitoba is a] very good hockey team,” Admirals head coach Karl Taylor said via the team broadcast after the game. “We relied too much on the goalie, but we found a way to get a victory, and come Monday when we come back here to do our work and do our analysis and get ready for the road trip, it’s still a victory.

“So, we’re going to enjoy it again. But great job by us finding a way. Obviously we can’t rely on our goaltending like we did in the second period. They absolutely took the game over. They pushed. We did a few things we weren’t happy with, but they definitely pushed, and they were desperate.”

Taylor added that Cooley “saved the day.”

“He was outstanding. What a great opportunity for a young man. Cooley really steps up in this opportunity against a hard team to play against for a goaltender. There [are] pucks coming in his feet from every angle. They really go to them that hard. They’re an aggressive team.”

Despite Taylor’s words ― and the barrage of shots ― Moose head coach Mark Morrison feels that his club can still do more to make Cooley’s time in net even more difficult.

“We need to find a way to be better at finding rebounds and creating more rebounds,” Morrison said. “To be honest, we had [43 shots], but I felt like a lot he hung on to. He’s seeing them, and he’s holding them, and there’s no rebounds, there’s no dirty pucks in the crease that we can find.

“We’re going to have to find a way to create those [chances].”

But Morrison also credited Milwaukee players’ willingness to disrupt Moose shooters.

“I think they do a really good job as part of their system of blocking shots,” Morrison added. “We’re having a hard time getting some of those through with traffic. We’ve got three days here to try to clean that up before the next game. It’s not going to change much. [Cooley is] playing well, and we’re going to have to get in front of him.”