The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles survived a few first period jitters and delivered very solid second and third period performances en route to a pretty nice 4-1 win over the St. John's Fog Devils in Game One of their opening round best-of-seven series, last night at C200.
The win occurred in front of a boisterous playoff crowd of just under 4000, many of them clad in their white playoff t-shirts. Fans deserve a lot of credit for really bringing it for the first playoff game and creating a pretty good atmosphere. The intensity in the rink was clearly stepped up a notch from the regular season.
Things got off to a bit of a rocky start when the Fog Devils scored a shorthanded goal very early on in the game to open the scoring. The goal came as a result of an unnecessary icing on an Eagle powerplay, a cleanly lost ensuing draw in the defensive zone, and very poor defensive zone coverage on the Fog Devil possession (not to mention a really juicy rebound given up). But in what may have been the most important play of the game, Cape Breton got the goal back IMMEDIATELY, on the same powerplay in fact (Oskars Bartulis low wrister from the point tipped in by Dean Ouellet). Making amends right away for that ugly shorthanded goal against really helped avoid any early-game panic setting in, for either the players or the fans.
Those two goals were the only ones of the first period, meaning the Eagles escaped with a 1-1 tie in a period where they showed typical "first period of the playoffs" jitters. In period two, Cape Breton started to really carry the play and take it to the Fog Devils with confidence; a number of consecutive powerplays didn't hurt either. At the very end of one powerplay, James Sheppard's off-wing blast found the top corner glove side on Fog Devil netminder Ilja Ejov for a 2-1 Eagle lead. Later in the period, on a five-on-three advantage, some patience and fine passing by the Eagles' #1 powerplay unit saw Paul McIlveen move in really deep from his point position and bury a Cam Fergus pass top shelf for a 3-1 Cape Breton lead after two stanzas.
It was a very relaxed and confident Eagle team in period three, as they wore down the clock with smart passing and solid defensive play. St. John's never really did threaten to get back in the game. McIlveen added his second of the game to round out the scoring, when he pumped home his own rebound after being robbed by Ejov on a one-time attempt in the slot. McIlveen's two goals are a great start to the playoffs for a guy who had a very good playoff showing for Cape Breton last year. Hopefully this guy can keep on delivering clutch playoff points!
The Eagles also scored three powerplay goals in the game, an encouraging stat for fans who were a bit worried about the powerplay heading into the postseason. Granted, one or two of the PP goals weren't exactly your typical powerplay goal (sustained pressure, lots of passing, etc), and there were several powerplays where the team didn't really get anything going, but at the end of the day, you have to be happy with 3/8 on the powerplay. Cape Breton was also excellent on the penalty kill, killing off all eight Fog Devil powerplays, including a 4:00 penalty to Brad Gallant and a two man disadvantage late in the second period. Many players deserve a lot of credit for their fine work on the PK, too many to really start listing.
Also key was the Eagles' physical play and grit. Going into the series, most agreed that Cape Breton had St. John's outmatched in most categories related to pure talent, and that the Devils would have to even the score by outdoing t Eagles in terms of physical play and grit. However, the Eagles may have surprised the Fog Devils last night, as it was actually the home team that dictated the play in terms of physicality and grit. At the very least, we matched them in this aspect of the game, and in my opinion we actually set the tone, instead of the other way around. This of course has to continue tonight, and throughout the series.
Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec wasn't tested overly often in the final two periods, but was solid when he had to be in getting his playoff off to a good start. And Luc Bourdon, who had a lot of people watching for a more intense performance from him than he had delivered in most regular season games, brought that intensity that we need to see from him. He was physical and involved, and ended up picking up second star honours. After an underwhelming second half of the regular season with the Eagles, it's time for Bourdon to really show us why we acquired him here in the playoffs, and he got off on the right foot last night by visibly stepping up the intensity.
The only glaring minus on the night is that Jonathan Laberge left the game in the second period following a mid-ice collision and never did return. He left the ice seeming to favour his left leg. I have yet to hear an injury report, but we obviously hope he won't be out for too long a time. He had been getting his playoffs off to a fine start as the third line center, almost scoring on a couple of great chances, and winning four or five pretty important faceoffs in his period and a half of action. Here's hoping this kid is OK; after all, he lost all that long hair in favour of the mohawk to play some playoff hockey!
Very positive start to the playoffs last night at C200, and as said a very fun playoff type atmosphere in the stands, but the team and its fans can't get too too high; they have to do it all over again tonight in Game Two at the Centre. I don't have much to say entering Game Two; as long as the Eagles keep up the intensity they showed in Game One, and keep doing the little things right, things should be OK in the long run.
I'm pumped for Game Two tonight, let's keep the momentum rolling, and see you all at the rink!!!!!