From solid goaltending to terrific special teams to a dangerous top line, the Moncton Wildcats are an underdog with a menacing bite.
The Halifax Mooseheads, 18-point favourites in the QMJHL first round, shouldn’t need to be told that heading into Games 1 and 2 at the Metro Centre on Friday and Saturday.
The Wildcats have beaten the Mooseheads in five out of eight meetings this season and fired a big warning shot with a 7-1 blowout just two weeks ago.
“We’re taking the series as if we’re the underdog,” said Mooseheads leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon, flipping the script.
“People think Moncton has had our number this year,” he said. “We’re not out to prove anybody wrong, but we’re going to try to show people we’re the stronger team.”
Behind the respected defensive system of veteran head coach Danny Flynn, 19-year-old goaltender Roman Will helped the Wildcats maintain the QMJHL’s fifth-best goals-against average and second-best penalty kill.
But scoring is the Wildcats’ Achilles’ heel.
Their 2.79 goals per game were the lowest in the QMJHL, and although their power play hums along at an efficient 22.6 per cent, the trio of Marek Hrivik and twin brothers Alex and Allain Saulnier combined for 47.3 per cent of their total scoring output.
“They’re a good team and they have a good power play, and that’s where they score most of their goals,” said Mooseheads captain Cameron Critchlow. “We have to key on that line, obviously, and make sure we keep a close eye on them.”
The Wildcats are calling defence their key to the series.
“Halifax has one of the most talented teams in this league, so we have to do our best to limit their chances,” Flynn said. “In addition to having three or four outstanding players, they have tremendous depth.”
The Mooseheads had their ups and downs this season, but they showed in February what they were made of when they posted a 7-2 record over a 19-day stretch and earned wins over the nationally-ranked Shawinigan Cataractes and Victoriaville Tigres.
Incredibly, they didn’t lose more than two games in a row during the 68-game season.
“We’ve learned the way we need to play to have success,” said head coach Dominique Ducharme. “We need to carry that into the playoffs.”