The chase for first place is finally over.
Hopes of catching the Lewiston MAINEiacs have realistically been slim for the past few weeks, but they officially came to an end on Sunday with the combination of the Eagles' 4-3 loss in Saint John and Lewiston's 4-3 home ice win over the PEI Rocket. Congratulations to Lewiston on very well-earned division and regular season titles. Both teams had excellent seasons, with Lewiston perhaps being just that little bit much more consistent. Late season stumbles against lower-echelon teams like Rimouski, Saint John, and St. John's really hurt Cape Breton's chances at finishing first, although that is not at all to say that a 45-20-2 record and second place in the overall standings is by any means anything to be ashamed of! Also, we all know that although the regular season title is something to be proud of, the real prize isn't handed out until sometime in May. That being said, Lewiston was just a little bit better over the course of the 70-game schedule than were the Eagles.......... now let's see how things shake down in the playoffs.
Cape Breton now knows for sure that they will enter the playoffs as the 2nd seed in the East, and has three final regular season games to use as last-minute playoff preparation (fine-tuning of lines and powerplay units, etc). The games may now be meaningless in the standings, but if history is any indication, you really want to do well in your last few games of the season heading into the playoffs. Both the 03-04 and 05-06 Eagles lost their last three regular season games, and neither really lived up to playoff expectations.
The remaining week of the regular season will also determine who the Eagles' first round playoff opponent will be. As the 2nd seed, Cape Breton will face seed #7 for the East Division playoffs, which will either be the St. John's Fog Devils or the Shawinigan Cataractes. The Cape Breton Post ran an article today from a Saint John, NB newspaper that erroneously reported that the Eagles are guaranteed to face St. John's in the first round. This is not true, as this paper seems to have forgotten that Shawinigan (the 9th seed in the West that will cross over into the East playoffs) is just two points back of the Fog Devils, and could overtake them for the 7th seed in the East.
St. John's sits in 7th spot with 58 points, and has two home games remaining, both against the Saint John Sea Dogs.
Shawinigan currently holds the 8th playoff seed in the East with 56 points, and has three games remaining. They include road games against Drummondville and Rimouski, and a home date vs Gatineau.
As you can see, the odds are in favour of our facing the Fog Devils, although fans may perhaps want to see Shawinigan in the first round instead of St. John's simply for the sake of seeing something different. We have already played the Fog Devils eight times this season, and we faced them in the first round last year.
In any event, our first round playoff opponent will be either of those two teams, and the next week will determine which one it will be.
A couple of team records were broken during Saturday night's 8-1 win at Harbour Station over the Sea Dogs.
Congratulations go out to JC Sawyer on setting a new team record for points in a season by a defenceman. His second assist of the night, on a Chris Culligan goal at 0:18 of the third period, gave him his 70th point of the season, surpassing Mathieu Dumas' old record of 69 points, set back in 2001-2002. In a very nice twist, Sawyer was able to accomplish this feat in his hometown in front of friends and family.
Sawyer finished the evening with three assists, and added another assist on Sunday, sitting now at 72 points on the season and adding to that new record. JC's 72 points put him in the league lead in points among defencemen, three ahead of Gatineau's Martin Frechette (69 pts) and four ahead of Victoriaville's Maxime Noreau (68).
The Eagles' first goal of the game on Saturday night, also scored by Chris Culligan, was historic as well. That goal was the club's 287th of the season, breaking the old team record of 286 goals in a season set by the 01-02 squad (not the 03-04 team, as reported in today's CB Post). Cape Breton now sits at 297 goals on the season, and will almost certainly hit the 300-goal plateau for the first time in team history.
As reported in today's CB Post, the Eagles head into the final three games of the season with a chance to finish as both the top offensive and the top defensive team in the league.
Cape Breton currently leads the league in goals scored at 297, but right on their tails are the Baie-Comeau Drakkar (296) and the Gatineau Olympiques (293). All three teams have three games remaining. The team with the most goals for at the end of the regular season is awarded with the Luc Robitaille Trophy. Should the Eagles win this award, it would be their first time in team history.
As well, the Screaming Eagles currently have the fewest goals against in the QMJHL, at 188. The only team threatening Cape Breton in this category is Lewiston, who have 191 goals against. Again, both teams have three games remaining. Cape Breton has once before allowed the fewest goals against, back in the 2003-2004 season.
Finally, as long as he does not falter over these final three games, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec is in good position to pick up his second consecutive Jacques Plante Trophy for the lowest GAA among starting netminders in the league. He currently sports a 2.48 GAA, while nearest competitor Jonathan Bernier (2.59 GAA, which probably would have improved had he stayed healthy) has been able to do nothing but watch from the sidelines since a late January injury.
A hat trick is when a player scores three goals in a game.
A natural hat trick is when a player scores three consecutive goals (uninterrupted by either team) in a game.
A perfect hat trick is when the requirements for a natural hat trick are met, except that the three goals are scored in the same period.
James Sheppard pulled off the rare feat of the "perfect hat trick" in Saturday night's win in Saint John, as he scored three consecutive goals in the third period.
What's more, each of his goals came in a different manpower situation. One was even strength, one was on the powerplay, and the third was shorthanded.
Rare stuff indeed, and yet another testament to what kind of a well-rounded player our captain really is!
Tomorrow night's game against the Halifax Mooseheads, the Eagles' final road game of the regular season, could be a tough one. Even though Cape Breton sits much higher in the standings than does Halifax, the Mooseheads are red hot as of late, and are winners of five of their last six hockey games. As well, Halifax owns a 3-1 record against the Eagles from the Halifax Metro Centre this season. Finally, it is the Mooseheads' final home game of the regular season, so you know they're going to have a huge crowd and are going to come out flying. Most teams do not lose their final home game of the season (as Saint John showed us on Sunday), so the Eagles will have to be ready.