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Islanders win finale, earn fourth place


Charlottetown to play Cape Breton in first round of QMJHL playoffs


The Charlottetown Islanders will play the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the first round of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs and the series will start at the Eastlink Centre.

The Islanders defeated the Memorial Cup-hosting Halifax Mooseheads 3-2 in a shootout Saturday at Scotiabank Centre in the Nova Scotia capital on the final day of the regular season.

“I guess it’s rather fitting, (given) how many times we went to the shootout, that it's the thing that secures us home ice,” head coach Jim Hulton said.

Daniel Hardie scored the only goal of the skills competition while Matthew Welsh was perfect as the Isles improved to 8-3 in shootouts this season. It is the second-best shootout record in the league, behind only league-leading Rouyn-Noranda.

The Islanders finished the season with a 40-21-4-3 record while the Mooseheads (49-15-2-2) earn first place in the conference due to a better ROW than Baie-Comeau, which had an identical record.

The victory secured fourth place for the Islanders and a first-round date with the fifth-place Screaming Eagles (40-22-15).

Games 1 and 2 will take place on Friday and Saturday before the series shifts to Sydney, N.S.

“We always have great games with Cape,” Hulton said. “There always seems like there’s multiple plot twists, lead changes, one-goal games.”

The series will see former Isles Mitchell Balmas, Shawn Boudrias and Derek Gentile return to Charlottetown while blue-liner Noah Laaouan gets a chance to play his former mates in Cape Breton. Hulton and Marc-Andre Dumont, the Screaming Eagles head coach and general manager, were assistant coaches with Canada at this year’s world junior tournament.

Saturday, the Mooseheads grabbed an early 2-0 lead as former Isles forward Keith Getson scored 1:54 in and Justin Barron added another 5:30 later.

Despite trailing in the game, Hulton liked his team’s first period.

“It was evident from the drop of the puck that every single guy came to play and it’s just so nice to see their efforts get rewarded,” the bench boss said.

He said it was arguably its best game of the year and probably the most physical it has played. The playoff scenarios were laid out prior to the game. Lose and potentially fall to seventh, gain a point and get at least fifth place while earning two points meant fourth place and not worrying about what other teams were doing.

Hunter Drew cut the deficit in half 5:36 into the second period and Nikita Alexandrov tied it on a rebound with four minutes to play in the second period.

“It shows how much character this group has developed over time and how much they care about each other,” Hulton said when asked about its resilience.

Drew Johnston, Brendon Clavelle and Hardie had the assists for the Islanders. Jake Ryczek had two assists for the home side while Samule Dube and Benoit-Olivier Groulx each had one.

Welsh stopped 31 shots in regulation and overtime while Alexis Gravel made 32 stops for Halifax.

Welsh continues to be the backbone for the Isles.

“He makes some huge saves to keep it within striking distance,” Hulton said. “We’ve become so accustomed to watching him do this. At key moments, he rises to the challenge – the shootout is the perfect example. We wouldn’t have 40 wins without his stellar shootout performance.”
Each team was 0-for-3 on the power play.

First-round matchups

Eastern Conference

Halifax (1) vs. Quebec (8)

Baie-Comeau (2) vs. Moncton (7)

Rimouski (3) vs. Chicoutimi (6)

Charlottetown (4) vs. Cape Breton (5)

Western Conference

Rouyn-Noranda (1) vs. Shawinigan (8)

Drummondville (2) vs. Gatineau (7)

Sherbrooke (3) vs. Blainville-Boisbriand (6)

Victoriaville (4) vs. Val-d’Or (5)

**Teams play the first two rounds of the playoffs inside the conference. The final four teams are seeded based on their regular season record for their semifinals.

Islanders-Screaming Eagles schedule

Friday’s Game

Cape Breton at Charlottetown, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday’s Game

Cape Breton at Charlottetown, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday’s Game

Charlottetown at Cape Breton, 7 p.m.

Wednesday’s Game

Charlottetown at Cape Breton, 7 p.m.

Friday, March 29 (if necessary)

Cape Breton at Charlottetown, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, March 31 (if necessary)

Charlottetown at Cape Breton, 7 p.m.

Tuesday, April 2 (if necessary)

Cape Breton at Charlottetown, 7:30 p.m.

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