SASKATOON, Sask. – The Halifax Mooseheads stole momentum in the second period and rode the wave to a 7-4 victory over the Portland Winterhawks at the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
The Winterhawks were the better team early in the game and scored two quick goals to go up 3-1 in the second period. Portland was in complete control until Jonathan Drouin cut the deficit to 3-2 and started an offensive surge for the Mooseheads that would see them score five unanswered second-period goals.
"It wasn’t one thing in particular, it was just everyone made a collective effort at one point when we were down 3-1 and then everyone just jumped back on the train," Mooseheads forward Stefan Fournier said. "(The first period) definitely wasn’t our best period, but luckily the score was still tied."
Portland head coach Travis Green identified a few factors which led to the Mooseheads’ comeback, particularly his team’s play with the puck.
"I thought our D zone coverage wasn’t great on a couple goals," he said, "where we had some wingers down low or we mismanaged the puck and they got a couple point shots that probably shouldn’t have got through – clear shots – with guys behind our defence."
Nathan MacKinnon scored a second period hat trick and the fans in Saskatoon saluted his efforts by showering the ice with hats.
"Surprising," he said of the hats on the ice. "Coming out west, we’re pretty far away from home. I didn’t expect any of that, but it was pretty cool."
Why the Mooseheads won: The Mooseheads made the proper adjustments and began playing their game. They were being outplayed for the first 25 minutes of the game, but got back to what made them successful. Their defencemen were better handling the Portland pressure while their star forwards began forcing the envelope offensively.
Once their offence started clicking, they were a near unstoppable force and were getting the good bounces.
"I thought it was going to be pretty run-and-gun, they were pretty similar teams," MacKinnon said. "We got comfortable, I think. It’s a big stage and none of us, except for Stephen MacAulay, have played in this tournament. Definitely a big change, but we got more comfortable and everyone chipped in and did their job."
Why the Winterhawks lost: The Winterhawks weren’t able to get the pushback they needed once Halifax took control of the game. However, the most glaring reason was Carruth’s inability to make crucial saves. Several of the goals were from shots he should have stopped, particularly MacKinnon’s third which came from behind the goal line.
"The game got away from us for about 10 minutes there and they got a couple bounces and they’re a good team," Green said. "The momentum went to their side for the rest of the second period and they got rolling. I thought they got a couple lucky bounces and it ended up in the back of our net."
"I’m sure (Carruth) wants a few of those back," Winterhawks captain Troy Rutkowski said. "He got us to this point in the playoffs and I mean, he’s a great goalie and I’m sure he’ll rebound, just like our club will Monday."
"You can’t give them opportunities like that," Ty Rattie added. "In the third period they did a good job of shutting us down. They’re a really good team. It’s our first time playing them and now we know why they’re ranked number one in the country. They played well – full credit to them and we’ll be better on Monday."
Player of the Game: MacKinnon may not yet be ready to concede the top draft spot to Jones. With his team down a goal, MacKinnon scored his first of three second-period goals on a nice tip in front.
His next goal came as a result of turning Jones inside out at the blue line before cutting wide and in behind the Winterhawks’ defenceman. MacKinnon beat Carruth from a closed angle in front then put his team up 6-3 with another strange goal, firing a shot from behind the goal line that ricocheted off Carruth’s back side and in.
"I wasn’t really focused on who it was," MacKinnon said of stepping around Jones on the second goal. "I just wanted to get it through and go around whoever their D-man was."
"Obviously, he won’t be scoring three goals every night," Mooseheads coach Dominique Ducharme said. "Tonight, he made things happen. He was skating, he was hard on the puck, he was hard to get the puck away from, he was strong on it and obviously he was a key player in our comeback and that win. He’s a kind of player that can make a difference like that."
Unsung hero: Mooseheads starting goalie Zachary Fucale clamped the door shut after his team got the lead. He faced many quality shots – 41 in total – and only allowed one more goal after the Mooseheads got rolling.
"For having such a strong team, I think some of the credit gets taken away from him for how much he does for us," Fournier said. "He’s always there to make a big save."
Game changer: The Winterhawks appeared to be in full control when Jonathan Drouin beat Rutkowski to a loose puck in front of Carruth’s net. Drouin got the backhand up quickly and scored the first of five unanswered Mooseheads goals to close out the second period. Drouin’s marker turned momentum in Halifax’s favour and the Mooseheads never looked back.
Quote of the day: MacKinnon came out donning a fur coat, a reward for being the player of the game in the mind of his head coach. Each player that Ducharme deemed his team’s player of the game wore the coat for post-game interviews during the playoffs.
"I’m sure it doesn’t smell very good," MacKinnon said, "but it’s nice to wear."