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Photo Credit: MooseHockey.com - Jonathan Kozub

Moose head to Rockford down 2-0 and facing adversity

While the season may not be over, the Moose are down 2-0 in their second round series against Rockford and they’ll be heading on the road to Illinois for games three, four and five;

Things aren’t looking too good for the Jets’ AHL affiliate, to say the least.

Unquestionably, this next three-in-three, which kicks of Wednesday, is the most crucial 72 hours of the Moose’s season. Essentially, the ball is in Rockford’s court, as they’ll have three chances to win two games and take the series, on home ice.

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It’ll be a daunting task for this young Moose team, as they’ll have to win at least two of the three games, which are being played in a three-in-three. Nevertheless, Moose head coach Pascal Vincent is embracing the challenge, as it’s somewhat of a training ground for these NHL-hopefuls.

“Our guys want to make it to the NHL, we’re facing a team that is as close as it can be, in our league, to be an NHL team. With 1500 games, or more, of NHL experience. It’s a good time to prove that you can play against a [well] experienced team,” said Vincent.

If these players can’t skate with the Lance Bouma’s, the Cody Franson’s or the Andreas Martinsen’s—how can they expect to be NHL regulars?

Vincent is certainly correct that this is a great opportunity for these young prospects to prove themselves, and within that dressing room, the team that, at one point, was in first place in the entire year, believes they can contend with the IceHogs.

“At the end of the day, we think we’re better than them,” said forward J.C Lipon. “I don’t think [Rockford being a veteran team], plays a big part. Obviously, you have to be aware. Little things, like getting the puck in, because as you said, they’re a veteran team and they’re in the right spots a lot.”

Something to note–the Moose’s record was actually better on the road, than at home, this season.

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“We’re going in there with the mindset that every game, it’s ours to win, on the road,” said forward Brendan Lemieux. “We love playing on the road. We feel confident on the road. It’s fun when you get on the road with this group of guys—we like it.”

While the Moose may be better on the road than at home, there’s more variables, than who has home-ice, that’s plaguing Manitoba. The fact is, the Moose team that was in first-place during the first half of the season, is much different than the lineup being iced right now.

For starters, Jack Roslovic, the team’s best player, has been with the Jets since January 19th, and his departure has left a gaping hole down the middle ever since.

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Mason Appleton, the team’s second best forward, has been out since game two of the first round, when he was injured with what appeared to be a concussion.

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He’s been day-to-day for the last little while, and very well could return Wednesday, but at this point, it’s unclear when he will return. And even if he does return within the next few games, it’s hard to expect him to turn a switch on, right away, and get back to his normal form. Sami Niku, who won the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s most outstanding defenceman this past year, could miss some time as well.

After being hit hard into the boards in the second period of game two, Niku did not return to the game. Vincent had no post-game update on Niku, and he didn’t speak to the media Monday, either. At this point, his status is unbeknownst to us. But, if he does miss time, that could be the dagger to the Moose’s chances.

Niku, who’s 54 points this past regular season placed him second amongst all AHL defenceman, is the quarterback of the team’s power play. Thus far in the series, the Jets’ affiliate has struggled on the man-advantage, going 0/5 over the last two games.

With Roslovic out of the fold, and very well one, or both, of Appleton and Niku on the shelf–someone’s got to step up for the Moose, sooner rather than later, or else they’ll be hitting the golf ranges much sooner than they would’ve expected back in January when they were the best team in the league.

So, whose it going to be?

Will it be Nic Petan? Maybe, but when I spoke to Pascal Vincent after game two, he alluded to Petan being banged up.

“I see him coming back to the bench, exhausted. He’s pushing himself. He’s a guy that was targeted quite a bit against Grand Rapids. We didn’t have much time off between the two series’. I spoke to him before the game, he’s good to go, he’s giving his best.”

For players like Brendan Lemieux and Chase De Leo, this is their time to shine–and if there’s ever a time for them to make an impression–it’s now.

Both have played quite well, with Lemieux having an impressive game two with a goal and a disciplined game to go along with it. De Leo, who’s seven points this playoffs leads all Moose skaters, has had a great series for the Moose, but can he take it up a notch and go from a great complimentary piece, to a driving force of a team?

Unlikely.

But, time will tell.

Just don’t be surprised if the Moose have played their last game at the MTS Centre this season.