SHAWINIGAN, Que. — The home fans left disappointed — whoa, watch out for the flying beer can — while the anyone-but-London crowd got its wish on Wednesday.
The Saint John Sea Dogs, getting two goals and one assist from captain Jonathan Huberdeau, beat the host Shawinigan Cataractes 4-1 to secure second place in the MasterCard Memorial Cup round-robin. The win, coming in a very chippy game, also bumped the London Knights into Sunday's final and relegated the Cataractes to Thursday's tiebreaker vs. the Edmonton Oil Kings.
The defending champion Sea Dogs took the air out of the crowd of 4,687 by taking an early two-goal lead and never looking back. They'll have to win another game to get to the final, but seem eminently capable of winning it all.
"There's still another step for me — it sounds cocky, but I still think we can turn it up a notch," Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant said. "A lot of guys were real good tonight and there's still a little more from the other guys. We're playing well, we're playing better as a team and that's real key for us."
The teams could meet again Friday in the semifinal. The Cataractes tried to send a message in case there's a rematch. Coach Éric Veilleux did a Johnny Tightlips routine about why rugged defenceman Dillon Donnelly was lined up as a winger before a last-minute faceoff.
Donnelly got ejected before he could find a dance partner. Far be it to wonder why the Cataractes, with a do-or-done game in fewer than 24 hours, didn't hold their powder and conserve energy instead of starting brawls.
"That's major junior hockey and that stuff's going to happen," defenceman Brandon Gormley said. On with the post-game questions!
What did the Sea Dogs do to make Gormley less of a factor?
The star defenceman had a three-point night in Shawinigan's win over London three nights earlier but was not such a compelling factor. The key was that Saint John played Cataracte-and-mouse, rather than bracing for the shot block à la Austin Watson.
"We talked about that before," said Minnesota Wild prospect Charlie Coyle, who set up Huberdeau's opening goal. "Gormley fires every chance he gets so we try to play him tight as much as we can, forecheck on him, bang on him as much as we can and make it tough for him."
With Gormley stymied, the Cataractes ended up being goose-egged at even strength. Their only goal came from Anton Zlobin on a late second period power play.
"Today, more often than not, the puck ended up in a corner," Cataractes coach Éric Veilleux said. "Just need to get back to our good habit of putting the puck on the net."
Is Saint John copying a bit of the London Knights' system by blocking more shots?
The Sea Dogs had 13 blocked shots, about a half-game's work for the London Knights. None were bigger than two by Nathan Beaulieu seconds apart in the third period, including one where he robbed Zlobin of a sure goal with the net gaping. That showed Saint John might be getting what Coyle called a "do whatever it takes" mentality. Gallant wouldn't indulge any talk they're morphing into London.
"London, they block more shots than any team I've saw and they compete hard," he said. "We're not a big shot-blocking team. I tell my star players to get out of the way and put their sticks down. I don't want guys getting hurt. That's how we lost Huberdeau earlier in the year [with a broken foot]. We try to have better positioning and let our D and our goaltending block those shots.
"I'm not saying we don't block shots," Gallant said. "I'm sort of joking there. We try and play a tight game. Gormley and Ellis are big point men [for Shawinigan] and we play them tighter than we usually play the points. Gormley had a couple of goals the other night. You want to take their star players away from shooting and I think we did that."
What elements of Saint John's game have changed since their loss?
The Sea Dogs are getting more pressure and the improved ice quality at Centre Bionest since the start of the round-robin has been a boon. They also ceded just four power plays, half of what London got against them five days earlier.
"I thought our discipline has got a lot better," Gallant said.
How much did Chaput rue the chances he missed?
Sportsnet's R.J. Broadhead and Sam Cosentino have hailed the Columbus Blue Jackets prospect as perhaps the best forward in the tournament. Chaput was its most snakebit on Wednesday. Twice he was the triggerman on 3-on-1s when Shawinigan failed to record an official shot, sending a "shpass" wide of the net in the second and hitting the crossbar with fewer than 10 minutes to play.
"Can't tell you," he said when asked what his shot off the bar would have done for Shawinigan's prospects. "Maybe we would have got another one, but we'll never know. The game's done. If we think about this one, we might miss our chance here."
The Cataractes will need more zone time against Edmonton. They also had two defensive zone giveaways that gift-wrapped Oil Kings goals, but it was also their first game in 31 days.
"Little things are going to need to be done better," Chaput said. "Little details. We're just going to have to play our best game. Today we just had one goal and we have to start putting pucks in the net."
Edmonton will be fresher for the tiebreaker. The less rested Cataractes will have to rediscover the pressure game that worked against London on no rest.
"Just need to keep going to the net," Veilleux said. "A few times we got caught stopping beside the net instead of being in front. You need to have a good net presence."
Veilleux did not name a starting goalie for Thursday. Overage Gabriel Girard has started the past two Cataractes games. Alex Dubeau, 17, hasn't played since Friday.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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