WINNIPEG - Eight days off did little to slow the Manitoba Moose and their playoff momentum.
Dusty Collins and Mario Bliznak scored for Manitoba and Cody Hodgson recorded a point in his first professional game as the Moose beat the Houston Aeros 2-1 on Friday in Game 1 of the American Hockey League Western Conference final.
Moose head coach Scott Arniel was prepared for his team's slow start. Manitoba was idle for eight days awaiting the winner of the Milwaukee-Houston series, which went the distance.
"It's been eight days, so this kind of game was a little nerve wracking. There was rust, but we found a way to win," he said.
Moose goaltender Cory Schneider stopped 31 of 32 shots for his eighth consecutive playoff win.
Manitoba opened the scoring at 14:45 of the first period when Hodgson - playing in his first game for the Moose after guiding the Brampton Battalion to the Ontario Hockey League final - took the puck off the boards and passed to Greg Rallo. After Rallo's shot bounced off Houston netminder Anton Khudobin's right pad, Collins buried the rebound for a 1-0 lead.
Hodgson, picked 10th overall in the 2008 NHL draft by the Vancouver Canucks, was also the OHL Player of the Year and a member of the Canadian team that won gold at the world junior championship in Ottawa in January.
"Cody did lots of good things," said Arniel. "He's got a good skills' package. If he continues to show well he will play more."
Collins was also impressed with his new linemate's debut.
"(Hodgson) helps us out creating offence. He has some skills, that's for sure. He opens up things for us."
After a scoreless second, Houston tied the game at 9:50 of the third. With Moose defenceman Mark Fistric sent off for hooking, Matt Beaudoin took a cross-crease pass from Tony Hrkac to beat Schneider.
But Manitoba retook the lead just over two minutes later when Bliznak wired a shot past Khudobin's glove for his first of the playoff.
Houston head coach Kevin Constantine gave Manitoba credit for their success but expects better from his team in Game 2.
"For the fans it was good playoff hockey," he said. "Manitoba has been a good defensive team all year. Getting the first goal was important for them. . . . We're not a team with a lot of offence. We were pushing it a lot as far as the fatigue factor goes. Tomorrow will be a lot harder for us."
Khudobin finished with 16 saves.
Game 2 of the series goes Saturday in Winnipeg.