To suggest that Game 2 between the Charlottetown Islanders and Cape Breton Screaming Eagles was anything short of wild would be an understatement.
Goals aplenty, hard hits, a heavy-handed fight, and a dramatic finish highlighted a second straight incredible night of playoff hockey at the Eastlink Centre. Lukas Cormier scored his first career QMJHL playoff goal late in the third period to send the Islanders to Cape Breton with a 6-4 victory and a 2-0 series lead.
“I liked our game. I liked our resilience to stick with it,” said Isles head coach Jim Hulton on the hard-earned victory. “You know that even with a two-goal lead, nothing is certain between these two teams in this series. It would have been easy to give up but we didn’t. The bench was good all game; we found a way to keep the emotions level and Cormier found a way to get the winner.”
Cormier’s game-winner has become almost standard for the 16 year-old. He received a pass from Hunter Drew at the top of the point and fired a hard wrister about two feet off the ground that found it’s way through a screen to beat Eagles starter Kevin Mandolese. Cormier says that, although the play has become seemingly routine, credit should be given to his teammates on the ice.
“When your teammates get you the screens in front like mine have, it’s never a bad point shot.” said Cormier on the goal. “I just try to get it through and not get it blocked.”
“He gets that puck away so quickly and with so much velocity that it surprises people. It was a big goal and that’s what special players do, they rise to the occasion in big moments. He continues to do that and it never ceases to amaze, especially as a 16 year-old.” said Hulton on Cormier.
Cormier added that it wasn’t the only big moment in the dying minutes of the game, pointing to a big block by Brendon Clavelle when Cape Breton pulled Mandolese late.
The Isles jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period thanks to Kevin Gursoy and Daniel Hardie. The pair, who have become nearly telekinetic at this point in the season, set each other up for goals before the end of the first 20 minutes, putting their incredible chemistry on display for the 3000 screaming Isles fans in attendance.
Cape Breton would storm back in the 2nd with two straight goals of their own, and it would be none other than Mitchell Balmas leading the charge. The former Islander, who has consistently been Cape Breton’s best player all season long, would tie the game on the powerplay midway through the second period, firing a quick wrister past Welsh for his second of the series.
Hardie would respond just minutes later, finding a loose puck in a scramble in front of Mandolese and roofing it for his second of the game and third of the series. The third player on the Hardie and Gursoy line, Nikita Alexandrov, would get in on the fun just prior to the end of the period. The draft-eligible forward would stickhandle in tight to get loose in the slot, then put a quick shot past Mandolese for his first of the postseason.
Hulton gave high praise for Alexandrov and Brett Budgell, who he says have taken big steps early in these playoffs
“[Alexandrov] and Budgell have elevated back to the level that they were at in last year’s playoffs,” explained Hulton. “Alexandrov has fired on all cylinders in both games and looks like he wants to be a difference-maker on the ice; that’s good news for us.”
The trend of two-goal bursts would continue in the third, allowing Cape Breton to tie this game once again. Leon Gawanke would score at the tail-end of a 5-on-3 powerplay early in the third, and Kyle Havlena would tie the game just minutes later.
Despite getting the game tied twice, Cape Breton could never pull ahead. Cormier would score the go-ahead goal with 6 minutes remaining and Zac Beauregard would add an empty-netter, sending the rabid Isles fans home with smiles on their faces.
Matthew Welsh played stellar for Charlottetown, making 30 saves in victory. Mandolese wasn’t far off despite the loss, making 29 saves.
Hardie finished with three points, while Cormier, Alexandrov, and Gursoy each recorded a goal and an assist. Hunter Drew, Brett Budgell, Jordan Maher, Liam Peyton, Colin Van Den Hurk, and Drew Johnston each added single assists.
The series now shifts to Cape Breton for Game 3 on Tuesday night, where the Screaming Eagles will try to battle back in to this series. Catch all of the action with George Matthews and Cory Arsenault on Ocean 100!