The Halifax Mooseheads have finished off the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the Battle of Nova Scotia.
The Mooseheads wrapped up the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League best-of-seven quarter-final in five games on Friday night at the Metro Centre with a 5-2 victory, advancing to the semifinals against the Gatineau Olympiques.
The five-game win is deceiving, as every contest came down to the wire. Friday’s game was no exception, as the Screaming Eagles were within a goal until the Mooseheads iced it with a pair of empty-net tallies in the final 27.2 seconds.
“This series could just as easily be 3-2 for them right now going back to Sydney,” Mooseheads goaltender Mark Yetman said. “We’re pretty happy we got it over with here in five and we’re looking forward to getting some rest.”
Taking empty-netters out of the equation, four of the five games in the series were decided by a single goal. Two of them went to overtime and all of them were crowd-thrilling.
Ryan Hillier scored back-to-back goals in the second period to put the Mooseheads up 3-1 going into the third. Yetman, the first star, made clutch saves down the stretch and the Mooseheads didn’t flinch when Chris Culligan’s second goal of the game brought the Eagles to within a goal with 3:07 to go.
Peter-James Corsi won a key faceoff to eat up a good chunk of the clock in the final 80 seconds and Colby Pridham and Brad Marchand put pucks into the empty net.
Game 6 was scheduled for Saturday in Sydney.
“That would not have been a fun bus ride, especially having had two chances to close it out,” Yetman said. “We got the win tonight — it was a little bit closer than we wanted — but we got it.”
The Screaming Eagles, written off by many at the start of the season when star forward James Sheppard signed with the Minnesota Wild, showed the dogged determination that was their trademark all season against Halifax. Over-age forwards Dean Ouellet and Jordan Clendenning led the way.
“They never quit,” Hillier said. “They’re a hard-working team with a lot of heart. Their 20-year-olds, Clendenning and Ouellet, carried them all series. They weren’t ready to back down.”
Logan MacMillan had the other Halifax goal. Screaming Eagles rookie goaltender Olivier Roy, who made countless highlight-reel saves, was the third star with 35 stops.
Mooseheads captain Andrew Bodnarchuk called it a “special” series to be a part of. Fans flocked to the games in the first playoff meeting of the provincial rivals since 2003.
“Everyone on both sides is really going to remember this for a long time,” he said. “It was a good atmosphere in the rink, in both rinks, and it was a lot of fun to be a part of.”
The Mooseheads are expected to have a full seven days off until they open the semifinals against Gatineau. The series is expected to open next Saturday and Sunday in Halifax.
The Mooseheads have the weekend off after the gruelling series and return to practice on Monday.
“We’ve got a couple of days off for our own time away from the rink to rest our minds as much as our bodies,” the 19-year-old Bodnarchuk said. “We’ll worry about the next round when we get back on the ice at practice on Monday.”