HARTFORD, CT – The Manitoba Moose took advantage of a late major penalty on Wolf Pack rookie wing Devin DiDiomete to score two goals and a 4-2 victory before 2,127 at the XL Center Wednesday night.
With 4:17 left, referee Terry Koharski assessed DiDiomete five minutes for interfering with Moose defenseman Zack FitzGerald, who needed about two minutes to be helped to his feet and off the ice.
Michael Grabner broke a 2-2 tie when his screen shot from the right point beat Miika Wiiikman for his team-leading 22nd goal and second of the game with 1:36 left. Grabner had rejoined the Moose after missing five games to represent his native Austria in an Olympic qualifying tournament in Hanover, Germany.
With 55 seconds left, a wide-open Guillaume Desbiens clinched the victory in the Moose’s first visit to Hartford since Dec. 4, 2002 when he scored on a backhander in front. The Moose (36-14-0-4) are on a 14-2-0-2 run and moved into sole possession of first overall in the AHL for the first time this season when Hershey lost to Hamilton, 4-2. One of the Moose’s regulation losses in their last 18 games was 6-3 to the Wolf Pack in Winnipeg on Jan. 6.
The Wolf Pack were upset with the penalty call that helped lead to the Moose getting the final five shots of the game.
“I disagree,” Wolf Pack coach Ken Gernander said. “(DiDiomete) hit the puck carrier, so it’s pretty hard to call interference. (Koharski) offered no explanation.”
DiDiomete concurred with his coach.
“(FitzGerald) reversed the puck and had his head down, and I just finished my check,” DiDiomete said. “There was no intent to hurt him or anything. I’m a physical player who when I have checks that need to be finished, I finish them.
“I didn’t think it was dirty at all. I didn’t have my elbows up or anything. I just try to finish my checks when I have an opportunity, and that’s all I did. But the ref thought it was worthy of a five-minute major, and that’s what he gave me. There’s nothing I can do about it now. It (stinks), but that’s hockey.”
FitzGerald sustained a shoulder injury and was scheduled to be X-rayed when the team got to Manchester, N.H., where the Moose play Friday night.
“I thought it was a great call,” Moose coach Scott Arniel said. “(FitzGerald) made the reverse to his partner, and it was 4, 5, 6 seconds later that the guy (DiDiomete) blindsided him.”
The Wolf Pack scored on the game’s first shift as Patrick Rissmiller intercepted an errant clearing attempt and passed to Tommy Pyatt, who backhanded his own rebound past Cory Schneider for his first of two goals. The Moose goalie entered the game as the AHL leader in goals-against average (1.67) and save percentage (.936) with an 18-3-0-1 record and a seven-week stint with the NHL Vancouver Canucks while Roberto Luongo was injured.
Wiikman, back in the lineup for the first time since Jan. 24 after missing five games with a liver ailment, kept the Wolf Pack ahead at 10:09 when he denied Jason Jaffray breaking in off right wing on a setup from Jason Krog, the AHL MVP last season while with the Chicago Wolves. Schneider then made a diving save on Brodie Dupont’s rebound with 3:10 left in the first period.
The Moose tied it at 1 as Krog passed from behind the net to Grabner breaking in alone out of the right circle at 5:14 of the second period.
Wolf Pack captain Greg Moore’s deflected shot from the right point ricocheted off the post at 8:35, but his hustle led to a shot from the right circle that Pyatt redirected past Schneider for his first two-goal game of the season. Rissmiller got his second assist of the game.
But just 1:39 later, Moose defenseman Nolan Baumgartner skated down left wing, came out of the corner and jammed the puck past Wiikman to tie the game again. It was Baumgartner’s seventh goal of the season and third against the Wolf Pack, including the winner with 1.7 seconds left in overtime on Jan. 7 in Winnipeg.
Pyatt nearly completed a hat trick on the Wolf Pack’s first power play, but Schneider stopped his point-blank rebound bid at 1:45 of the third period. It remained tied until the final minutes, when the Moose improved to 18-4-0-2 on the road.
“It was a pretty even game, and Miika was all right,” Gernander said. “But we needed two points. It comes down to a power play, and they get (two) power-play goals.”
The Wolf Pack’s P.A. Parenteau and Artem Anisimov, who started the night as the AHL’s No. 3 and 4 scorers, had scoring streaks stopped at six and four games, respectively.
Left wing Sean Avery did not make his Wolf Pack debut after joining the team Tuesday, when he was assigned by the Dallas Stars. Avery hasn’t played since his six-game NHL suspension in December for making derogatory remarks about other hockey players dating former girlfriends. He completed treatment in a NHL counseling program last weekend, cleared waivers Monday and was allowed to join the Wolf Pack by the New York Rangers on a conditioning assignment and could rejoin the NHL team on re-entry waivers.
Avery, 28, was acquired by the Rangers at the 2007 trade deadline and played last season in New York before signing a four-year, $15.5 million deal with Dallas. The Stars are the only NHL team without a primary affiliate and could have sent him to any interested team. They have said Avery won’t return to the Stars.
The Wolf Pack’s next game is Friday night at the XL Center against Lake Erie.
Manitoba 0 2 2 — 4
Hartford 1 1 0 — 2
First period: 1. Hfd, Pyatt 12 (Rissmiller), :54; Penalties: None.
Second period: 2. Mtb, Grabner 20 (Krog, Jaffray), 5:14; 3. Hfd, Pyatt 13 (Moore, Rissmiller), 13:13; 4. Mtb, Baumgartner 7 (Desbiens), 14:52; Penalty: Potter, Hfd (hooking), 1:23.
Third period: 5. Mtb, Grabner 21 (Baumgartner, Krog), 18:24, pp; 6. Mtb, Desbiens 13 (Krog, Jaffray), 19:05, pp; Penalties: Soares, Mtb (tripping), 0:45; Keane, Mtb (holding), 13:03; DiDiomete, Hfd (major-interference 56.4), 15:43.
Shots on goal: Manitoba 8-9-14_31, Hartford 9-8-9_26; Power-play opportunities: Manitoba 2-for-3, Hartford 0-for-2; Goalies: Manibota, Schneider 19-3-0-1 (26 shots-24 saves), Hartford, Wiikman 16-13-2-3 (31-27); Referee: Terry Koharski; Linesmen: Jim Briggs, Rich Patry; A: 2,127.