The Halifax Mooseheads keep saving the best for last.
The Mooseheads seized a 2-0 lead in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League best-of-seven quarter-final on Saturday, defeating the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles for the second straight night, 5-4 before a crowd of 8,452 at the Metro Centre.
As it was on Friday, the score was tied heading into the final 20 minutes, but the Mooseheads came out with another strong third period of clutch goals and big-game saves.
The Mooseheads scored a late goal in the second period on Friday to gather momentum in the third, but on Saturday, they had to recover from a late Screaming Eagles goal.
Robert Slaney completed a hat trick for Cape Breton with 1:29 to go in the second, leaving the score tied 3-3.
“We wanted to make sure we didn’t do the same thing as them and come out soft,” said Mooseheads first star Brad Marchand after a three-assist outing. “We wanted to come out with a bang in the third and take it to them right off the bat.”
Ben MacAskill, at 3:37, and Bryce Swan, with his second of the game and 10th of the playoffs at 6:19, put the Mooseheads up 5-3. They survived a late goal from Chris Culligan and rode steady goaltending from Mark Yetman --- including a game-saver on Joey Haddad in the final two minutes --- to victory.
Slaney’s hat-trick goal could have been a back-breaker. The Mooseheads appeared to go up 4-2 just before the tally, but the goal was called back because of a controversial goaltender interference call to Logan MacMillan. He ended up in the box, and Slaney’s goal came on the ensuing power play.
MacMillan appeared to be shoved into Screaming Eagles goaltender Olivier Roy, and the Mooseheads were up in arms, but they didn’t fold the tent after Slaney’s tally.
“You’re going to go through adversity, so we just took that with a grain of salt,” said MacAskill, whose goal was his first of the post-season. “There’s nothing you can do about it. They’re going to make the calls and we have to keep our calm.”
The Mooseheads lacked discipline at times and saw Ryan Hillier take three straight trips to the penalty box, and were burned for three goals on six power-play opportunities.
The Mooseheads saw a steady dose of the Eagles’ top two lines, anchored by Dean Ouellet and Jordan Clendenning.
“Maybe it’s our conditioning, maybe they’re getting tired,” Yetman said, of Halifax’s key to success in third periods. “They play their big players a lot and for us, we’re able to roll four lines. Maybe we’re wearing them down.”
Swan and Peter-James Corsi finished with a pair of goals.
The Screaming Eagles will host Games 3 and 4 at Centre 200 in Sydney under difficult circumstances.
“I don’t think we played totally up to our potential,” Slaney said. “Yetman made some big stops, some saves on some shots that could have been in. It could have gone either way.
“I don’t think anybody really expected to come in and win two (in Halifax), but we really wanted to get a split.”