Fiddler's Facts: Habs battle Leafs tonight for possible playoff spot

Fred MacDonald
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Island Storm and Charlottetown Islanders continue playoff action in Halifax this weekend

The Toronto Maple Leafs entertain the Montreal Canadiens tonight in a game with definite playoff implications.

Many local Leaf fans are planning a trip to Toronto for a playoff game and are expecting a long playoff run, but after three straight losses to Washington, Detroit and Tampa Bay, there’s no guarantee they’ll even make the playoffs.

Heading into tonight’s game, the Maple Leafs have 80 points after 71 games with 11 games remaining on the schedule. Detroit and Columbus won Thursday and are now within three points of Toronto with two games in hand. Washington picked up a point in that overtime loss Thursday and has closed to within two games of Toronto as well.

The Habs and Leafs are suffering from similar woes. Montreal netminder Corey Price and his Toronto rival Jonathan Bernier are terrific but neither is 100 per cent healthy right now. Bernier has carried the Leafs this season, but he’s out with a groin injury and coach Randy Carlyle has lost faith in backup James Reimer. If he allows a soft goal early tonight, or is shaky, he could get the hook in favour of Stratford’s Drew Macintyre. It’s also possible, if Bernier doesn’t dress, Carlyle could start Drew but that’s a bold move with so much at stake.

The Habs and Leafs are also similar on the blue-line, each showcasing a talented young defenceman with offensive skills. Toronto’s Jake Gardiner has been a standout for the Leafs in recent weeks playing on a defence that has been giving up far too many quality chances night after night. Did you notice captain Dion Phaneuf standing around looking at the nice C on his sweater while Steven Stamkos slipped behind him to tap in a loose rebound and the winning goal in Wednesday’s loss to Tampa Bay? Phaneuf has the hockey IQ of a lobster.

The Canadiens aren’t much better defensively. It would help if head coach Michel Therrien would stop throwing all-star defenceman P.K. Subban under the bus when things go wrong and just let the young man play his game.   

Newcomer Thomas Vanek has been a huge addition for the Habs and he must continue to find the net if the Canadiens are to win tonight and hold onto a playoff spot.

Tonight’s game should be a dandy and both teams will have to resort to desperation hockey. It’s possible neither team will make the playoffs and right now unless somebody steps up tonight, a playoff run for either team will be a short run.

NBL playoffs

The pro basketball Island Storm came up with a heart-throbbing 106-103 victory Thursday in Halifax and face the Rainmen Sunday at 2 p.m. in Game 4 of the best-of-seven series.

Antonio Ballard returned to the Storm lineup and his grit down the stretch showed, as the Island team held off a determined Halifax team in the late going. Ballard had 17 points and 10 rebounds while Steve Tchiengang (19 points and 12 boards) and Nick Okorie (20 points and five rebounds) were strong in the late going. 

Chris Matthews, Jason Williams, Brian Addison and Raven Barber have been outstanding for the Rainmen, who were up by one point with two minutes to go. This series looked like it could be a long one. 

Oops, almost forgot. How about a pat on the back to UPEI graduate Doug McKinney, who bagged nine points, a steal and a rebound in the Game 2 Storm loss in Charlottetown, his best game as a pro.

The Storm is back at the Eastlink Centre Monday night, so let’s get out and make some noise.


QMJHL playoffs

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs continue tonight in Halifax with the Islanders in Halifax for Game 2 against the Mooseheads.

The Islanders entertain the Mooseheads on Tuesday and Wednesday at Eastlink Centre for games 3 and 4 in their best-of-seven series.

Bantam hockey

Congratulations to the Charlottetown bantam AAA Abbies, who earned the right to represent this province at the Irving Oil Cup April 3 to 6 in St. John’s, N.L.

I watched last Saturday afternoon’s game where the Abbies dug deep after star defenceman Kallum Muirhead was tossed at the end of the first period for checking from behind. All the Abbies players gave their best, resulting in a 6-2 victory to set the stage for Ryan May’s third overtime winner Sunday in Summerside to sweep the first-place Western Caps in three straight.

Chris MacQuaid was outstanding along the Abbies blue-line and he may well be the best 14-year-old ever in this province. He’s big, can skate, has puck sense and a cannon of a shot. Chris played bantam last year when he was peewee age and will be a first-round Quebec major junior draft pick when eligible, unless he gets kidnapped.

Muirhead is another defenceman with a terrific future. Others that were impressive in this series include first-year bantams Robbie Howatt and Thomas Casey, pint-sized defenceman Thomas Harper and underrrated sniper Andrew Campbell.

Goaltender Ava Boutilier was outstanding throughout the playoffs and may have been the difference in both the upset of West Prince and of Summerside. The Abbies also include goaltender Matt Halliwell, Jack Miller, Jack Carruthers, Pat Young, Jacob Hood, Dallen Bulger, Tyler Hashmi, Gavin Hickey and Kelly Burnett. Head coach Cory Gaudet, assistant coaches Alex Hannam and Luke McIver as well as manager Robbie Roberts did a splendid job putting this team together. 

Congratulations to all.


Harness racing

There’s no live racing today at Red Shores at the Charlottetown Driving Park, but there’s plenty of simulcast racing.

Flamboro goes today at 2 p.m. local time while simulcast racing is available tonight from Woodbine, The Meadowlands, Yonkers and Pocono.

Four legs of the levy series for free-for-all type pacers go at Yonkers, which attracted horses like Sweet Lou, Dancin Yankee, Word Power, Escape the News, A J Corbelli, Foiled Again and Apprentice Hanover.

At the Meadowlands, there’s two divisions of the Clyde Hirt series at $20,000 plus the $47,000 final of the medium claiming series. At Pocono, Mark MacDonald’s handles world champion Daylon Magician in the $25,000 preferred trot in addition to 10 or so others. At Woodbine, Wazzup Wazzup, In Commando and McKinney are the three logical choices in the $28,000 feature.

Anthony MacDonald posted driving doubles Tuesday and Wednesday at Flamboro and took last Monday’s $34,000 trot feature at Woodbine with Amigo De Grande. Mark MacDonald drove two winners at Yonkers as he gets back in the swing of things after five weeks on the mend.

A quick look at the Canadian leaderboard shows Jody Jamieson leading in money at $700,000 while James MacDonald is second with $500,000 and Anthony sits 10th.

Alf Carroll leads with 76 wins, James MacDonald is second with 66, Bill Davis at 64 and Robert Shepherd at 60. Island boys are doing well.

On the local front, I had a chat the other day with Reg Petitpas of Somebeachsomewhere and Silent Swing fame and he tells me there’s plenty of interest in the pacing stallion Stonebridge Terror, the Western Terror brother to Western Paradise.

Regal, who won $800,000-plus and won Gold Cup and Saucer Trial, stands at Bob Gordon’s Elm Grove Farm, Alma.

The Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural will be the keynote speaker at the Granite Ridge Club in Guelph, Ont., Tuesday night as he throws his support behind Progressive Conservative candidate Anthony MacDonald in the horsemen’s battle against the Ontario government, which cancelled the SARS contract. I would love to be there for that one as Gural has rescued the industry in New Jersey.


Fred MacDonald's column appears in

The Guardian each Saturday. He can be

reached at



Organizations: Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Eastlink Centre Islanders Major Junior Hockey League Irving Oil Granite Ridge Club

Geographic location: Toronto, Halifax, Washington Detroit Tampa Bay Columbus Montreal Charlottetown Summerside Pocono Quebec West Prince Charlottetown Driving Park Western Paradise Guelph Ontario

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