Five years ago, in April 2002, the Acadie-Bathurst Titan ended the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles' hopes of a league title by taking them down in five games in the third round of the QMJHL playoffs. It was a heartbreaking end to a playoff run that the Eagles and their fans truly believed would end in championship glory.
Five years later, in April 2007, Cape Breton has knocked off those same Titan (in the same five games), to reach the league semifinal for the first time since, and only the second time ever in the team's ten-year existence on the island.
The series win was clinched last night at C200, with a wholly convincing 6-0 win. After a tentative first five minutes or so, the Eagles absolutely dominated the rest of the game in every way imaginable. The real key point to take away from last night's clincher was the absolutely blitzing Eagle powerplay. Cape Breton managed to score on each of its first four powerplay opportunities of the game, and on most of those chances with the man advantage, it didn't take them long to find the back of the net. Each of the team's two powerplay units contributed two goals, and both powerplay units were consistent factors all series. It's GREAT to see the team finally find two powerplay units that are almost equally strong and that can threaten pretty much equally to score, after spending much of the season honestly relying in large part on just one stacked powerplay unit.
The powerplay units that had so much success in this series were:
JC Sawyer-Oskars Bartulis on the points
Dean Ouellet, Jonathan Laberge, and Cam Fergus up front
Paul McIlveen and Luc Bourdon on the points
Chris Culligan, James Sheppard, and Scott Brannon or Nick MacNeil up front
I've said it countless times before and I'll continue to say it; for us to achieve our full playoff potential, our powerplay has GOT to be rocking. It was the team's Achilles Heel for so many years prior to this one, and it's really appreciated by the fans to finally see a team that can really threaten on every powerplay chance they get. The Eagles have scored at least one powerplay goal in each playoff game they've played thus far, and are far and away in the lead in PP % so far in these playoffs, at 38.2%. The next-closest team still in the postseason is Lewiston, at 27.6%.
Speaking of special teams, the Eagles' PK has also been huge thus far in the playoffs. The team also leads the league in this playoff category, at an 86.0% killing efficiency. To top it off, Cape Breton has scored six shorthanded goals in these playoffs, also a league-leading statistic. Five of those six "shorties" came in the series against the Titan.
A few keys to the five-game series win over le Titan d'Acadie-Bathurst were:
- An extremely strong forecheck. Our forwards were absolutely relentless in pressuring the young and mistake-prone Titan defence, and it resulted in many favourable turnovers. As well, it often prevented Bathurst from setting up out of their zone the way they would have liked to.
- Excellent team defense, forwards included. How else were we able to for the most part keep the #2 and #3 scorers in the league (Beauregard and Perreault) in check throughout the series?
- Our third and fourth lines stepped up and outplayed theirs. This was one concern that this blogger had entering the series, that maybe their "lower" lines were a bit more established than ours. But ours came together great, with guys like Jonathan Laberge and Brad Gallant (for example) stepping up and playing their best hockey to date this season. Laberge especially had his coming out party as an Eagle in the series against the Titan. After disappointing in the second half of the regular season after being acquired from the Saint John Sea Dogs, Laberge missed most of the first round against the St. John's Fog Devils with an injury. He returned against Bathurst with a vengeance, scoring four goals in the five-game series, including a couple of really big ones. He was also probably our best faceoff man in the series. If Jonathan can keep up this excellent play, we'll have finally found that bonafide third line center the team has been wanting all season.
- Our best players have continued to be our best players. It's a tired old cliche, I know, and some of you may want to throw rotten tomatoes at me for using it, but look at the scoring stats so far in the playoffs. Not a single guy on the team is lagging behind what he's capable of doing in terms of point production.
As for our round 3 opponent................
it's looking most likely that it will be the Val d'or Foreurs.
As many of you already know, the third round of the QMJHL playoffs features a crossover between the league's two divisions. Each division will have two teams remaining entering round three. The highest-remaining seed from the East Division will play the lowest-remaining seed from the West, and the highest-remaining seed from the West will play the lowest-remaining seed from the East.
Lewiston and Cape Breton are the two teams to have emerged from the East, while the two West Division playoff series are still taking place.
Cape Breton WILL be the #2 seed from the East, as they finished behind Lewiston in the regular season. Therefore, they will play whoever is the highest-remaining seed from the West once the rd 2 playoff matchups in that division are finished.
That looks like it's probably going to be the Foreurs. They currently sport a 3-1 lead in their series against Baie-Comeau. If they finish that series off (Game 5 goes tonight from Baie-Comeau), they WILL be our opponent in the semifinal round, as they finished first in the West and would be the highest-remaining seed.
If Val d'or somehow blows their 3-1 lead and loses to the Drakkar in 7, then our third round opponent would be the winner between Drummondville and Rouyn-Noranda. The Voltigeurs currently lead that series 3-2.
Anything can happen, but expect us to face Val d'or in round three, barring a near-miracle from the Drakkar. The Foreurs are a stacked hockey club who completely loaded up for this season, and would be an extremely difficult challenge for our Eagles; St. John's and Bathurst would not even come close to the challenge les Foreurs would be. However, I'll wait until they're actually our next opponent before getting into too much detail about Val d'or.
Unfortunately, the Eagles will NOT have home ice advantage in the upcoming third round. Even though Cape Breton finished with more points in the overall standings than did any West Division team, the league simply awards home ice to the "highest seed" in these third round playoff series. It doesn't make much sense at all, especially when you consider that in the league final, the league simply reverts to awarding home ice to the team that had more points in the overall standings. However, we have to play the cards we're dealt, and who knows, considering the 2-3-2 format our series will have no matter who we play (i.e. two games on the road, three games at C200, then two games on the road), perhaps not having home ice advantage could turn out to be an advantage of sorts for the Eagles.
Unless any scheduling snafus come up out of nowhere, expect the Screaming Eagles to kick off Round Three next Friday night (April 20), on the road.
Their first home game of the third round would be Game Three of the series, which would probably take place on Tuesday, April 24.