WINNIPEG - Staving off elimination in the Calder Cup final earned the Manitoba Moose a hero's welcome Wednesday.
The American Hockey League team was greeted by pompon-waving staff at the Winnipeg airport after arriving home from a 3-2 win over the Hershey Bears in Pennsylvania Tuesday night.
The Moose victory forced a Game 6 at the MTS Centre Friday night before an already sold-out crowd. If necessary, a Game 7 would go Sunday night in Winnipeg.
"This is great. I wasn't expecting this," Moose goalie Cory Schneider said of the welcoming party.
"It feels like we've already won, but not even close yet. We've still got two more big games left and I think we're feeling pretty good about ourselves going into them."
This season's AHL goalie of the year, Schneider was praised by his teammates and coach for his 31-save performance Tuesday that kept the Bears from winning their 10th Calder Cup.
"He is a guy that's been there all year long for us and he stood up (Tuesday) night," Manitoba head coach Scott Arniel said.
"Then (Michael) Grabner and (Jason) Krog also scoring goals, we needed that big time and Schneids has been outstanding this whole playoffs."
Grabner scored the game's first goal at 17:00 of the second period. Cody Hodgson, the Canadian and Ontario hockey leagues' player of the year (Brampton Battalion), netted the second goal of his rookie pro playoffs 67 seconds later.
Hershey winger Graham Mink made it 2-1 early in the third, but Krog scored an empty-netter at 18:39. Hershey's John Carlson made it 3-2 with 31 seconds to go.
Arniel knows the task ahead of his squad is huge if the 13-year-old franchise wants to win its first Calder Cup, which would also be the city's first hockey championship since the Winnipeg Jets won the WHA's Avco Cup 30 years ago.
Before Tuesday's win, the Moose were down 3-1 in the series and have history against them.
Only three teams have won the Calder Cup after trailing 3-1 in the finals, and the last time was 60 years ago. The 1949 Providence Reds stole the Cup from Hershey, the 1947 Hershey squad accomplished the feat over Pittsburgh and the 1946 Buffalo Bisons defeated Cleveland.
"If you get too far ahead of yourselves, obviously some bad things can happen," Arniel said. "We have to make sure that Friday night we take care of business. Again, it's do-or-die and we've got to make sure we get ourselves to a Game 7."
Yet he has confidence his team has the stuff to claim the Cup.
The Moose were AHL regular-season and Western Conference champions with 107 points (50-23-1-6), one point ahead of the Eastern Conference-champion Bears (49-23-2-6).
"I'm real confident," Arniel said. "We've been there all year long, we've been playing at a very high level".
"I know Hershey does not want this to go to Game 7 and we're going to get a heck of a game from them, so we've got to be as good or better than what we've been."
Veteran Moose captain Mike Keane, who won the Stanley Cup three times in his 16-year NHL career with Montreal, Colorado and Dallas, will keep his teammates focused.
"(The airport reception) is great, this is fantastic, but we're back here to win a couple games," Keane said.
"So day off today and back to work tomorrow."