Things weren't looking very good for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles for a while on Friday night against the Moncton Wildcats, but for the second straight game, three early third period goals saved the day.
The first period was very boring and saw the Eagles come out pretty flat; passing was off and the team couldn't seem to get anything going. A great pass by Andrew MacDonald found Phil Mangan in the slot, and the free agent pickup roofed one blocker side on Cape Breton starter Ondrej Pavelec to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead after one period.
The Eagles had a bit more jump in the second period but still had some trouble getting anything going due to a stifling defensive style being played by the visiting Wildcats, who seemed content to try and sit on their 1-0 lead. After a couple of good scoring chances, the home side thought they had finally scored one late in the second period, but the goal was waved off as Cam Fergus was ruled to have interfered with Moncton goaltender Jhase Sniderman on the play. Fergus was also assessed a goaltender interference penalty. This was the second game in a row that saw the Eagles denied of a goal due to a goaltender interference penalty to Fergus, and like the previous time, a lot of fans thought that he had been pushed into the goaltender and that therefore the goal should have counted.
Seeing as how it was "Teddy Bear Toss Night", a lot of fans who thought the Eagles had scored a goal threw their stuffed animals onto the ice, to be collected by charities and dispersed to needy children on Christmas. In a move that drew the ire of most of the C200 crowd, Moncton defenceman Luc Bourdon allegedly threw a few of the toys back into the stands. He was booed loudly every time he touched the puck for the rest of the game.
The Eagles finally broke out in the third period, salvaging a game that looked like it was in danger of going down as a frustrating loss. Oskars Bartulis, playing his last game before going away to the World Juniors to represent Latvia, made one of the very best passes we have seen at C200 so far this year to send Paul McIlveen off on a breakaway. Bartulis, in his own end, spotted McIlveen "hanging out" at the opposing blueline, and banked a pass off the boards right onto his tape, sending him in all alone. McIlveen did the rest, beating Sniderman with a terrific forehand-to-backhand-to-forehand deke to tie the game and finally give the fans something to cheer about.
The Eagles then went on a powerplay and took the lead for good, as the top powerplay unit came through with a goal. Dean Ouellet showed great vision in finding Fergus at the lip of teh crease on the right side of the net, and the 20-year-old vet easily tipped it home for a 2-1 Cape Breton lead. Cape Breton then added to their lead with their third goal in just 2:41 (after being unable to get much of anything going at all in the first two periods), as JC Gauthier continued his hot play of late by banging home the rebound of a Brendon MacDonald shot from a bad angle. MacDonald's assist gives him a point in each of four consecutive games now, a rare accomplishment for a player whose duties are primarily of the checking and penalty killing variety. 3-1 Cape Breton and all the momentum our way.
Moncton made things interesting late in the game, as Bourdon went on a spectacular end-to-end rush (being booed the whole way), and then fed sophomore forward Matt Eagles (son of former NHLer Mike Eagles) in the slot. Eagles beat Pavelec low blocker side and suddenly things were a little more tense. However, McIlveen would ice the game with a brilliant empty net goal with just over a minute remaining, and Cape Breton would manage to win 4-2 despite trailing 1-0 heading into the third and final period. Two seasons ago, in 2004-2005, the Eagles failed to win a single game that they trailed after two periods.
It was not the best or most exciting hockey game of the year at C200, and the attendance of just over 2700 for a Friday night game in December was very disappointing, but the Eagles managed to pull it out in the late stages and improve to 20-11-1, tying the Wildcats for second place in the division and placing the Eagles third overall in the QMJHL standings. The Eagles still trail Lewiston by seven points for first in the East Division, as they're totally on fire, having won 13 straight hockey games.
Cape Breton next sees action this coming Friday and Saturday, when the PEI Rocket come to town for a doubleheader. The two games are the final two home games for the Screaming Eagles before the holidays, so come on out and catch a game; it will be a while before you can do so again!