It was a game that felt a little like one step forward and two steps back for the Mooseheads as they lost for the third time in four games, dropping a 3-2 decision on Saturday night in Moncton.
Entering the night there was some promising news for Halifax as the team welcomed Ostap Safin back to the lineup for the first time since November 25th and Jocktan Chainey played his first game since December 28th but the Herd seemed doomed from the get-go as 32-goal scorer Raphael Lavoie went down with an upper body injury on the first shift and did not return. It’s not known if Lavoie will miss any significant time and was being reassessed after the game. He will not play Sunday in Saint John.
The Wildcats came out with plenty of energy and speed in the opening period as the Mooseheads were slow to find their groove. Moncton made hay with their two power play opportunities in the period with Jakob Pelletier and Jacob Hudson both striking on the man advantage to give the home side a 2-0 lead by the 12:52 mark of the first. The Mooseheads put a dent in the lead in the final minute when Samuel Asselin notched his 48th goal on a rebound in front of the crease and it was 2-1 going into the break.
Asselin becomes just the sixth player in franchise history to score 48 or more goals in one season. he tied Jason King’s mark from the 2000-01 season and is one behind Nikolaj Ehlers who scored 49 as a rookie in 2013-14.
Halifax began the second period with a much stronger effort and carried the play for much of the final 40 minutes but the bounces didn’t go the way they would have hoped. Despite out shooting the Wildcats 15-6 in the middle frame it was Jordan Spence who picked up the only goal of the period when his wrist shot beat Alex Gravel on the far side and Moncton had a 3-1 lead going to the third period.
The teams played a very defensive final 20 minutes and the Mooseheads led in shots 8-3 and were able to cut the lead to one goal for the second time. Arnaud Durandeau tipped in a shot by Benoit-Olivier Groulx on the power play at 6:25 but Halifax couldn’t get any closer as the Cats shut them down the rest of the way.
Francis Leclerc made 30 saves to earn the victory as the Mooseheads lost in regulation to Moncton for the first time all season. The Herd have a record of 6-1-1-0 versus the Wildcats in 2018-19. Alex Gravel was pegged with the loss with 22 saves.
Halifax had plenty of fan support on the road once again as many fans dressed in Mooseheads colours made the trek to the hub city to be part of a healthy Saturday night crowd of 6,769 at the Avenir Centre.
Safin didn’t appear to be hampered by the lower body injury that had held him out of the lineup for the majority of the season as he skated with ease and played up and down the lineup and on the power play after Lavoie left the game. He finished with three shots on goal. Chainey was paired with Jake Ryczek and also saw time on the power play.
The Mooseheads are suddenly three points behind the Baie-Comeau Drakkar for top spot in the Eastern Conference although the Herd hold a game-in-hand. The current playoff scenario would see the Mooseheads facing Chicoutimi in the first round. There are four games left in the regular season for Halifax including a matchup Sunday afternoon at 2pm in Saint John. The Mooseheads will look for revenge on Moncton on Wednesday night at 7pm at Scotiabank Centre while Halifax finishes the season on home ice against Saint John next Friday and Charlottetown on Saturday at 4:30.
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