The most critical weekend of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles' season to date couldn't have gone down much better.
This past weekend's pair of home dates against the division-leading Lewiston MAINEiacs had been circled on fans' calendars for a long time, and the Eagles made sure it was well worth the wait. Cape Breton won both of the crucial divisional matchups, the latter in front of a sold-out crowd, to not only gain four very important points in the standings on the rival MAINEiacs, but to rebound very nicely from a road trip full of struggles the weekend before, where they won only one of four games.
Friday night's contest was a tight-checking goaltender's duel that was hanging in the balances until the final buzzer. Netminders Ondrej Pavelec of the Eagles and Peter Delmas of the MAINEiacs stole the show, each standing on his head in front of a crowd decimated in size by a winter blizzard that rocked the Island. Chris Culligan opened the scoring by blasting a low slapshot past Delmas in the second period, and set Dean Ouellet up at the side of the net with a perfect pass for the eventual game-winner late in the third. Pavelec came up with a number of huge saves to ensure the victory, none bigger than his penalty shot stop on Lewiston forward Stefan Chaput in period three. Defenceman Beau Prokopetz made his home debut as an Eagle in this contest, but fellow newcomer Luc Bourdon sat out with an ankle injury.
On Saturday night, the weather couldn't stop a sold-out crowd from filling C200 pretty much to capacity as the Eagles came up with one of their best 60-minute efforts of the season in a convincing 4-0 victory over the American visitors. Pavelec was unbeatable in this contest, registering his first shutout of the season and cementing his status as the QMJHL's Defensive Player of the Week for the week. Cape Breton got two great goals from somewhat unlikely sources (Jean-Christophe Gauthier and Brad Gallant) early in the game and never looked back; the outcome of this game was never really in much doubt. This game also saw Cam Fergus finally break out of his five-game pointless streak with a pair of goals. Linemate Paul McIlveen also broke a five-game pointless streak with an assist on one of Fergus's markers. New defenceman Prokopetz made a great impression on the C200 crowd by earning third star honours in just his second home game with the team. As well, the packed house got to see Bourdon finally make his much-anticipated home debut with the Eagles, although he was still clearly hurting and could only play at limited capacity.
After losing three of their first four games with the new faces in the lineup, the "new look" Eagles team had something to prove, and prove it they did by taking all four points from the first-overall Lewiston squad this weekend. Although the team's goal scoring may need another game or two to get back into full gear, this weekend's wins were a huge step in the right direction, and in large part make up for the recent disappointing road trip. The most important thing in these two wins was the play of goaltender Pavelec. If the Eagles are going to go anywhere this year, they're going to need Ondrej at the top of his game, and in each of his last four starts, we have seen him at the top of his game. Here's to hoping that this trend can continue.
With the two wins, Cape Breton improves to 33-16-2 for 68 points, and now sit just four points back of Lewiston for first place, and one point back of Moncton for second place. Going into the weekend, the Eagles trailed Lewiston by eight points, and Moncton by three.
The Eagles are now enjoying a few days off before continuing their five-game home stand on Friday against the Rimouski Oceanic and Sunday against the Drummondville Voltigeurs, before finishing it off next Tuesday with a potentially pretty important date with the Moncton Wildcats.
The stretch drive is really heating up, as the Eagles still have about 1/3 of their home schedule remaining for the regular season. Get yourself down to C200 to watch this team gear up for the playoffs!