TRURO – The question a team constantly gets asked around the playoffs is whether it’s a positive to have time off or to consistently be playing.
For the Weeks Crushers, having to play the mini-series against the Bridgewater Lumberjacks seemed to pay off on Saturday as they opened their best-of-seven division semifinal series with a 3-1 victory over the Truro Bearcats in front of 1,508 fans at the Rath Eastlink Community Centre.
“I think it definitely worked to our advantage because we had played some playoff hockey already this week and they hadn’t played in about 10 days so it was tough for them to get going,” said rookie forward Andrew Graham after the game.
It only took 1:39 of play for the Crushers to open the scoring with Evan Carmody streaking down the sideboards and picking the near-side top corner past Shayne Campbell. Graham said the goal was huge for the team, more than the first goal in other games they’ve played this season.
“We noticed it (how quiet the building was) as well and it was great to get the fans out of it quickly,” he said. “I think deflating the rink helped big time and worked in our favour. It was hard getting used to the new rink and everyone had the jitters going out, but after everyone’s first shift I think we executed everything pretty well and shut down guys we need to shut down. That goal also helped to settle us down.”
“I think we were kind of shell shocked more than anything because I don’t think the guys were ready,” said Bearcats defenceman Zach Evans-Renaud of Carmody’s goal. “But it is what it is and you have to rebound from something like that in the playoffs.”
Neither team would score in the remainder of the first, with Pictou County killing two penalties and one P.K. by the Bearcats.
Early in the second the Crushers took advantage of an unprepared Bearcats team as Nick Parker scored a wrap around goal 1:24 into the period on a confused Campbell to put Pictou County up 2-0. Evans-Renaud cut into their lead midway through the frame, but that was as close as they would get.
Parker scored the Crushers third goal and his second of the game just 51 seconds into the third period on the power play to seal their Game 1 victory. That said the Bearcats did have a number of late chances to cut into the Pictou County lead. Graham said great communication between goaltender Brandon Thibeau and their skaters helped keep the puck out.
“We’ve discussed it (how they set up in front) a little bit and they have some bigger guys that they like to put in front of him and Brandon has told us what he wants us to do,” said Graham. “Our defence for the most part abide by that, whether it’s pushing them out or letting them be, Brandon knows what he wants and seemed to handle it well.”
Thibeau made 22 saves between the pipes for the Crushers, while Campbell made 19 in the loss.
After the game their was excitement surrounding the Crushers room, while the Bearcats dressing room was sombre.
“We know what it feels like to lose in the playoffs,” Evans-Renaud said. “Everybody just has to take it in, forget the game but not the lesson.”
The series now shifts to the Pictou County Wellness Centre for Game 2 on Tuesday night at 7 p.m. Graham said after the Crushers opened the way they did that Truro will be hungry for a win, but he believes they can carry the momentum home.
“It was good for us to start with a win on the road because we play really well at the Wellness Centre and it’s great to take away home ice advantage,” he said. “We thought it might be a little tough coming into their barn, but we put that aside and came out with the win.”
In the other Eastlink division semifinal the Amherst Ramblers defeated the Yarmouth Mariners 5-4 in overtime to open their series in Yarmouth.
With files from Matt Veno.
On Twitter: @NGNewsChris