A valiant comeback attempt fell just short and the Manitoba Moose and Milwaukee Admirals will play a deciding Game 5 for the second straight year.
The Admirals handed the Moose a 5-3 Game 4 loss on Friday in Milwaukee to tie the best-of-five division semifinal series at two games apiece.
The Admirals eliminated the Moose from the Calder Cup Playoffs in five games last year. In 2022, the deciding game was played in Winnipeg, but this time it’ll be contested in Milwaukee.
The Admirals took a three-goal lead to the final frame. The Moose scored twice in the first five minutes of the third, but couldn’t muster the equalizer before the Admirals scored into the empty net.
“I think every man to himself knows that there’s certain parts of our game that we just didn’t execute on well enough tonight,” said defenceman Ashton Sautner. “Get a good sleep tonight and the belief is strong. So, get a good sleep tonight and get back at it again tomorrow.”
The game was tied at one in the first period when the Moose scored into their own net with the goalie out on a delayed penalty call, sending the team into a downward spiral.
“I thought we didn’t get enough shots on the power play when we really needed it to keep us close,” said Moose head coach Mark Morrison. “But it’s a work in progress and it’s down to 60 minutes now.”
The Moose spent way too much time in the penalty box in the first two periods and the Admirals’ potent power play took full advantage by scoring twice in six chances on the man advantage.
“We weren’t very disciplined,” said Morrison. “I can’t tell you how many times we got caught up in the emotion of the game, maybe, a little bit, the importance of the game. And all the scrums after, some bad penalties that we took at bad times. So, we need to definitely clean that up.”
Jansen Harkins recorded three more points with a goal and two assists, and now has six points in the first four games of the series.
Milwaukee outplayed and outshot the Moose 28-19.
The score could have been a whole lot worse if not for a few outstanding stops by Moose netminder Oskari Salminen who finished the game with 23 saves.
Yaroslav Askarov stopped 16 of 19 shots for Milwaukee.
The Moose had an early power play opportunity, Greg Meireles raced in on an odd man rush before firing it past Askarov to open the scoring just past the five minute mark. After going 0-for-9 on the man advantage earlier in the series the Moose scored goals on consecutive power plays.
The Moose were just seconds away from killing off the final penalty after a 5-on-3 later in the first, but former Winnipeg Jets forward Zach Sanford lifted a backhand past Salminen to level the score at one apiece.
But it was a disastrous finish to the opening period. On a delayed penalty call, with the Moose goalie on the bench, Declan Chisholm’s pass got past Ville Heinola at the blueline and went the length of the ice into the empty net. Spencer Stastney was given credit for the fluky own goal.
Milwaukee led 2-1 at the first intermission after outshooting Manitoba 11-5.
The Admirals went back on the power play early in the second stanza, and Joakim Kemell whipped in a one-timer from the top of the faceoff circle for a 3-1 Milwaukee lead.
Before the period was done, Kiefer Sherwood scored on a breakaway following a Moose turnover to give the Admirals a three-goal advantage.
Manitoba had only 11 shots on net through two periods.
Harkins scored Manitoba’s second power play goal of the game early in the third as the Moose inched closer.
Wyatt Bongiovanni whacked in a loose puck just two minutes later and suddenly it was a one-goal game with 15 minutes still left to play.
But the Admirals regained their footing after calling a timeout and held the Moose to just three more shots the rest of the third, while scoring into the empty net in the final minute.
The Moose made only one lineup change from Game 3 as Tyler Boland replaced Evan Polei on forward.
The deciding Game 5 is set for Saturday starting at 6 p.m. The winner will face the Texas Stars in the Central Division Final after they swept the Rockford IceHogs in three straight games.