It’s the first shot that can mortally wound a hockey team.
The final shot just finishes things off.
So it may be for the Toronto Marlies, who take on the Manitoba Moose tonight in flood-threatened Winnipeg.
You can’t blame residents of the Manitoba capital if they are worried about things bigger than hockey. And it would almost feel like piling on should the Marlies build a 2-0 lead on the city’s midwinter companions tonight, especially with the next three games of the North Division best-of-seven series set for the Ricoh Coliseum beginning Sunday.
And that’s the virtue of winning Game 1 on the road.
The Marlies’ mastery at the MTS Centre takes on a life of its own, especially with Justin Pogge extending his dominance of the Moose with 37 saves in Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime win.
Pogge, whose confidence quite naturally wavers with his results, seems invulnerable in the ‘Peg. He was the first star in two crucial end-of-season wins and terrific again in Game 1. His Winnipeg winning streak stands at six.
It’s hard to overestimate the importance of that start for Pogge. His contract expires at season’s end and he has been told in the explicit terms used by Leafs GM Brian Burke that while he has the talent, size and competitiveness to play in the NHL, his mental approach needs work. This is true of any goalie, look at the tortured fortunes of the Canadiens’ Carey Price. It’s also worth noting that no one in Pogge’s draft year has a regular NHL job either.
Still, when Burke and Leafs coach Ron Wilson talk about ending the attitude of entitlement, they are tackling a demon that reaches past the borders of the big league roster. Pogge has long been identified as the goalie of the future for so long you would be forgiven for thinking his first name was really ‘Goalie of the Future.’
He enjoyed great success at the 2006 World Juniors but that has really been it. The Leafs have made moves with their goaltending, they bypassed Pogge for Martin Gerber when Vesa Toskala was lost and the club is hoping to sign Swedish goalie Jonas Gustavsson
. The signs for Justin Pogge lean toward the ominous but he can go a way toward fixing it, with a string of solid playoff games.
And that’s why his excellent performance in Game 1 mattered so much.
The home ice advantage is, to a hockey player, about as important as water and his mother.
The home team can lose the first six games of a playoff series but the home team in Game 7 will skate onto their ice secure in their advantage. I have never much understood it but it is a truth that stands above any logic.
Who am I to argue? Even if they lose tonight, the configuration of the 2-3-2 series has been swung toward the Marlies. They will fly home secure in the knowledge they can win the series at home with a sweep at the Ricoh. Never mind that they have played better in Winnipeg than at home (the Moose are 9-4-2-1 at Ricoh), that is how hockey players think.
This is how hockey players think too.
Tim Stapleton, blanketed by the bigger Alexandre Bolduc, didn’t score in Game 1. Neither did Jiri Tlusty. Instead it was the footsoliders, Alex Foster and the light scoring Kyle Rogers. The winning goal came from Bates Battaglia but the pass came off the stick of Andre Deveaux.
The Marlies secondary players have stepped up. And that matters too.