Checking in after a busy Easter weekend prevented me from doing so earlier. This blogger/fan is heading to Northern New Brunswick to cheer on our Eagles tomorrow and Wednesday, so this may be the last time I check in for a little while. A few point form thoughts on Game 2, and heading into Game 3:
- With the exception of an early second period lapse in Game Two, the first two games at C200 couldn't honestly have gone much better for our Eagles. The 2-0 series lead against the Titan marks the first time Cape Breton has ever won two games in a playoff series against Bathurst, and is just the second 2-0 series lead in team history....... the other one obviously coming last round against the St. John's Fog Devils.
- The eight goals scored by the Eagles in Game Two are a team record for a playoff game, although it must be kept in mind that one of those was an empty netter, and the other was an extremely rare "automatic goal", awarded because James Sheppard was interfered with as he skated in alone on a vacant cage. It's the first time I can ever remember the Screaming Eagles being awarded a "gimme" goal like that.
- With a win in Game Three in Bathurst tomorrow night, the Eagles would have seven straight wins to open the playoffs. That would be longer than any win streak the team put together throughout the course of the entire 70-game regular season.
- With a win in either Game Three or Game Four in Bathurst this week, Cape Breton would exorcise one of the biggest demons haunting it over playoff seasons past. The Screaming Eagles are 0-10 all-time in the playoffs at the KC Irving Centre in Bathurst, NB. What a feeling it would be for long-time Eagle fans to finally break that goose egg, and to finally break away from the hold that that building has had on us come playoff time.
Back to the 8-3 win in Game 2 at C200................
- When you draft a player with the #1 overall draft pick, you expect an impact superstar that will wow fans for years and deliver in all clutch situations. You expect a guy who will be able to singlehandedly turn a hockey game around in his team's favour. You expect an ultimate difference-maker.
We've always known that James Sheppard, the Eagles' only first overall pick ever (2004), had most or all of these qualities one expects in a number one draft choice, but I'm not sure if he ever put it all on display like he did in Game Two on Saturday night. With two goals and three assists, including THE goal that turned the game around when the Eagles were losing 3-2 and reeling a little bit, James came up with one of the absolute biggest playoff performances in team history. His solo mission through virtually the entire Bathurst Titan roster to tie the game at 3-3 was something that few junior players in this country are capable of pulling off, and his shorthanded effort to set up Chris Culligan early in the third period for the 6-3 goal was almost equally amazing.
Many fans have said it; in these playoffs, we go as James Sheppard goes. If that's truly the case, I as a fan have all the confidence in the world as we head further down the playoff path.
- Also having a huge night was defenceman Oskars Bartulis. With two powerplay goals and two assists, Oskars really broke out with a huge game at a time when perhaps he needed one. He is most effective on the point when putting low slapshots on goal as opposed to wiring pucks up high, and that was proven when both of his goals were practically right along the ice. Here's hoping that performance goes a long way towards helping his confidence the rest of the way.
- Even though two of them were empty netters, three shorthanded goals in one period (third period, Game 2) has to be an Eagle team record......... regular season or playoffs. Anyone want to look that up for me? ;) As well, the powerplay came through yet again with three big goals........ it's been said for years; playoff success will be achieved when we finally get a powerplay that produces in the playoffs. It's been happening big time so far this year, and it's ever so much appreciated by the fans. Cape Breton has scored at least one powerplay goal in each of its six playoff games so far... let's hope that continues this week!
- A lot of people were disappointed with the play of "hired gun" Luc Bourdon down the regular season stretch, but most of you would have to agree that in these playoffs so far, he's really been showing us why we went out and acquired him. Luc was a gigantic physical and defensive force in those first two gams against the Titan. Kudos as well to JC Sawyer for his excellent work neutralizing the top Bathurst snipers, and to Beau Prokopetz for his top notch physical play and careful defensive awareness. Finally, Jason Swit and Spencer Corcoran have been rock solid as the unheralded third pairing; two of the team's most improved players over the second half of the season.
- How about that time out called by coach Pascal Vincent? Timeouts often evoke a positive change in the team that calls them, but that was one of the biggest improvements in a team from "before" to "after" that I've seen in a while after a coach called a timeout. Kudos to Vincent for recognizing the need and acting accordingly.
For Game 3, we really just need similar efforts to the two excellent ones put forth in the first two games. All four lines and all six defence truly contributed in big ways, and goaltender Ondrej Pavelec was there when needed. I honestly can't think of a single player that failed to pull his weight in the first two games of this series. If our boys can continue this strong and honest play, follow the game plan that's worked to date, and remain hungry despite the temptation to relax a bit due to being up 2-0, we should be fine and should continue to enjoy success. Discipline and powerplay production are also "musts".
There will be a decent number of Eagle fans cheering the team on in Bathurst, myself among them, all I have to say to end is GO EAGLES GO!!!!!