Wednesday night’s matchup in Moose Country was a big one for both teams involved as the Mooseheads played host to the Moncton Wildcats with huge playoff implications on the line and Halifax rallied for a thrilling 5-3 victory on home ice.
Benoit-Olivier Groulx was the hero with a clutch third period goal coming with less than five minutes to play as he snapped a wicked shot from the top of the circle that beat goalie Francis Leclerc. That brought the 7,351 fans to their feet as Halifax took the lead for the first time in the game. Groulx sealed the victory in the final minute with an empty net goal and was named the first star as the Mooseheads improved to 48-15-2-1 on the season. That put the Moose temporarily in first place in the Eastern Conference but it didn’t last long as Baie-Comeau scored an overtime victory against Quebec to retake top spot. The Drakkar have 101 points while Halifax has 100 with two games remaining for both teams.
The loss was costly for the Wildcats dropped two places in the standings to seventh in the Eastern Conference as Cape Breton and Chicoutimi both picked up wins. If the playoffs started today it would be Halifax versus Moncton in the first round.
Halifax didn’t get off to the greatest start in the game as the Cats scored on their first two shots to take a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes. Jonathan Aspirot beat Alex Gravel on the power play and Jeremy McKenna had the first period goals to put the visitors in front despite the Mooseheads controlling the shots 13-5.
It was a much stronger effort in the second period for the Mooseheads as they came out with better intensity and it wasn’t long before they were able to get on the board. Arnaud Durandeau finished off a play in front of the net by ripping in a rebound to cut the Wildcats lead to 2-1 at 4:25 of the period. The Herd kept the pressure coming and celebrated again less than a minute later as the puck crossed the line following a flurry in front of goalie Francis Leclerc. The officials blew the play down and waved no goal but a video review determined that Keith Getson had scored and the game was knotted 2-2. Jeremy McKenna restored the Moncton lead with his second goal of the game and 44th of the season when he tallied on the power play midway through the stanza but fourth line center Brock McLeod evened the score 3-3 with a slap shot from the slot and the building was buzzing with excitement.
The playoff-like atmosphere continued in the final period with the rivals going hard at each other during the play and after the whistle in the tight battle. The fans erupted when Groulx put home his 29th goal of the season for a 4-3 lead at the 15:14 mark and then breathed a sigh of relief when he slid in his 30th into an empty net.
The Mooseheads played their second straight game without forwards Raphael Lavoie and Antoine Morand who are sidelined with upper body injuries and listed as day-to-day.
Alex Gravel made 26 saves for his 33rd win of the season.
With two games to go in the regular season there is still plenty of work to be done if the Mooseheads want to claim first in the Eastern Conference. While Baie-Comeau will play twice at home against Rimouski, Halifax has home games Friday at 7pm versus Saint John and Saturday at 4:30pm against Charlottetown. Tickets are on sale now at the Ticket Atlantic Box Office, select Superstore Outlets, TicketAtlantic.com, the Official Mooseheads Shop in Scotia Square or charge by phone 902-451-1221.