Moose sticking to plan against potent Admirals

Photo: Jonathan Kozub

📝 by Patrick Williams

Last year, Manitoba and Milwaukee went to the deciding Game 5 of their Central Division semifinal series. The Admirals came into Winnipeg and took a 2-1 win to knock out the Moose.

Manitoba is looking to turn the tables this spring, and is one win away thanks to rookie forward Wyatt Bongiovanni.

Bongiovanni’s power-play goal 4:53 into overtime in Game 3 of the teams’ rematch Wednesday night gave the Moose a second consecutive OT win and a 2-1 series lead. They can close out the series at UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena tonight.

“I think a lot of guys deserve that overtime winner and that feeling overall,” Bongiovanni said afterward. “It’s just a great team win.”

Bongiovanni did not see any playoff action with the Moose last year after completing his collegiate career at Quinnipiac University. But he was with the team and was able to see close-up how the level of play in the Calder Cup Playoffs intensifies. This season, Bongiovanni had 18 points (13 goals, five assists) in 56 games, and was ready to earn playoff time with the Moose this year.

Going into Milwaukee has not been a particularly pleasant experience for the Moose, either. They won once in four tries in Milwaukee (1-2-1-0) during the 2022-23 regular season, and they dropped both of their road playoff games against the Admirals in last spring’s series.

“We’re here so much,” Bongiovanni said. “Even the guys who came before me on this team, they’ve played in this building countless times, so home or away, we’re going to come and play our game no matter what.”

An early goal from Alex Limoges in Game 3 helped set the tone.

“It was huge for us,” Moose head coach Mark Morrison said of going ahead 2:49 into the game. “It kind of broke the tension a little bit there and got us going, but I think we were ready from the start. I thought we were engaged in the game. I thought we were physical right away, and we were playing on the inside. We weren’t playing on the outside. We were making sure that we got in dangerous areas to score goals and put pucks there, and I think we made it hard on them.”

The Moose also continued to carry the play to Milwaukee even after Kevin Gravel’s goal 6:10 into the third period evened the game at 2-2. The Moose took seven of the game’s final nine shots in the last 8:27 of regulation and kept steady pressure on Milwaukee netminder Yaroslav Askarov.

“Our game plan throughout the whole night was to just keep coming at them with our speed and playing north with the puck. I thought that they weren’t handling us down low in their zone too well. We need to play forward and continue stepping on the gas.”

And then there is the Manitoba penalty kill. The best way to stop a potent power play is to stay out of the penalty box, after all, and the Moose have made a concerted effort in their back-to-back wins to tighten up their discipline against a Milwaukee club that had finished first in the league on the power play at 24.6 percent. The Admirals scored twice on the man advantage in Game 1, but the Moose have only been shorthanded nine times through three games of the series.

“Discipline has been a struggle for us throughout the year,” Bongiovanni said. “We’ve definitely had an emphasis on trying to stay out of some unnecessary penalties.”

Now the Moose have two chances to finish out the series, beginning in Game 4 tonight.

“I thought our transition game was solid, and I thought we were responsible on it,” Bongiovanni said. “It makes it difficult when you get five guys back in our D zone back-checking hard.

“You get three periods of that, and we’ll be successful.”