After what seemed like an eternity of a wait, we are finally back to C200 tonight for playoff hockey! Game One of the second round of the playoffs against the Acadie-Bathurst Titan kicks off tonight and there should be a sellout or near-sellout crowd on hand to witness it. This is only the third time in team history that the Eagles have had home ice advantage in round 2 and hosted the first two games on their ice.
The key for tonight should be how the Eagles respond to having had nine days off since finishing the St. John's Fog Devils in Game Four last Wednesday in Newfoundland. Throughout this season, Cape Breton honestly didn't respond very well to extended periods without a game; some of the Screaming Eagles' worst performances of the season came on the heels of six or seven-day layoffs. It is CRUCIAL that the team not come out flat tonight despite having been idle for the past nine days. You know that le Titan will hit the ground running, as they're coming right off of the high of an overtime Game 7 win on Tuesday night against PEI.
One good thing about the long layoff was that it allowed Cape Breton to rest any nagging injuries players may have had. As a result, we should be entering tonight's game with pretty much a full lineup, with the exception of Etienne Breton, who is still a little ways away from coming back from that broken jaw. Here is a guess at line combinations and defence pairings for tonight:
Dean Ouellet-Cam Fergus-Paul McIlveen
Pure offensive line that delivered the goods big time against the Fog Devils, and will be asked to outproduce the Titan top line of Bartos-Perreault-Beauregard.
Chris Culligan-James Sheppard-Scott Brannon
The Eagles' superb two-way unit that can score goals, play physical, and most importantly, is extremely accountable defensively. These guys will be called upon to chip in offensively, to set the tone physically, and to play a big part in shutting down the Titan top scorers; especially Perreault and Beauregard.
Robert Slaney-Jonathan Laberge-Brendon MacDonald
A gritty checking line with decent offensive skills too, although it's a bit of an unproven entity as a unit. Laberge is just coming off of injury, but it's in this series where he's really going to have to start stepping up and showing us why we went out and traded for him. His performance is a big part of whether or not this line works. The challenge for this line will be to outplay the Titan third line of Joly-Faille-Grenache.......... and that's going to be a tough order.
Alex Quesnel or Nick MacNeil-JC Gauthier-Brad Gallant
A plucky energy line with very good offensive skills for a fourth line, and JC Gauthier is really counted on for his faceoff prowess. However, like line 3, this trio hasn't played much together as a unit, and will have to gel quickly to match the Titan fourth line of Jezegou-Morneau-Labelle.
JC Sawyer-Luc Bourdon
Two of the top defencemen in the league pair together as a fearsome duo. JC is the offensive defenceman, Luc the mean and physical shutdown guy. These two guys seem to have pretty good on-ice chemistry together, and I'm sure they'll be given the assignment of making life miserable for the flashier Titan forwards........ and I think they can't wait to take on this assignment. Bourdon's play in this series, like Laberge's, could go a long way in determining his true value to this team after being picked up in a trade.
Oskars Bartulis-Beau Prokopetz
A skilled but safe duo that will be playing a simple defensive game and chipping pucks in and out. Beau can also punish you physically. Oskars is one of the league's top defencemen, but has been hot and cold since about Xmas now......... he needs to be on top of his game night-in, night-out from here on in.
Jason Swit-Spencer Corcoran
No frills here, these guys will be asked to outplay the 4-5-6 Titan defencemen like Desnoyers, Pomerleau, Tesink. Both guys were pretty much near the top of their game against St. John's and need to keep bringing it if we're to have true defensive depth 1-thru-6.
And of course, in goal, the Czech Wall- Ondrej Pavelec.
This guy has been absolutely on top of his game since January, and all I can say is keep it up kid. If Ondrej is on top of his game in this series, the Titan tandem of Tardif and Miller will eventually wear out trying to match him save for save.
Good Friday has been good to the Eagles, and it's been very bad. In 2002, Pierre-Luc Laprise scored the OT winner to give Cape Breton a thrilling 5-4 win over Baie-Comeau to finish off the Drakkar in five games before a jubilant sold-out C200 crowd. But in 2004, Good Friday saw the Chicoutimi Sagueneens finish off the gigantic five-game upset of the Eagles that remains the team's darkest moment to date. Extreme joy in 2002 and crushing sorrow in 2004........ what will Good Friday bring in 2007?
It's playoff hockey, breathe it in, feel the electricity, and prepare to get wild as part of a potentially sold out C200 crowd tonight! A long-time foe comes for yet another challenge, and it may very well indeed finally be time to slay the demon that's haunted pretty much our entire playoff existence- the Bathurst Titan.