YARMOUTH, N.S. – In the playoffs every game is a big game.
You want that first win in the series to take the lead.
You want that second win – just because.
You want that 3-1 commanding series lead advantage instead of seeing the series tied 2-2 – unless, of course, you’re the team who have just evened the series. Then 2-2 is where you want to be.
Given the chance you’d love to sweep a series.
Given the choice you’d love to win a series at home.
You don’t want a Game 7.
On the contrary, you do want a Game 7.
Tonight at the Mariners Centre in Yarmouth it’s those two latter scenarios that will play themselves out. Leading the series 3-2, the Edmundston Blizzard – while it would be nice to win at home – are looking to wrap up the MHL league final championship series with an April 24 Game 6 win.
The Mariners, of course, don’t want to see that happen – they want to go to Ottawa for the Fred Page Cup – and so they will be looking to extend the series to an all-deciding Game 7 in Edmundston on Thursday. If that happens, it’s like a Super Bowl scenario – it all comes down to one game.
Regardless of the Game 6 outcome, tonight is the last home game for the Yarmouth Mariners in an MHL league that saw nearly 300 regular season games and has seen 40 playoff games so far. The Mariners have played 67 games during the regular and playoff season heading into Game 6.
It’s been an exceptional year for the Mariners, who finished the regular season in first place in their division with 71 points – 35 wins, 14 losses and one overtime loss – which also placed them second overall in the league behind the Edmundston Blizzard with 76 points (36 wins, 10 losses and four overtime losses.) The Mariners defeated the Truro Bearcats in seven games in their playoff semi-final series and won the Eastlink South Division in five games over the South Shore Lumberjack.
In their playoff run, the Blizzard swept the Miramichi Timberwolves in their first playoff series and went the distance to Game 7 with the Summerside Western Capitals to win the Eastlink North Division championship.
Games 1 and 2 of this final series were played in Edmundston with Games 3 and 4 in Yarmouth and Game 5 back in Edmundston. With the exception of Game 5, it’s been an unbelievably tight series.
Game 1: Blizzard 6 – Mariners 5 in double overtime
Game 2: Mariners 1 – Blizzard 0
Game 3: Blizzard 3 – Mariners 2 in double overtime
Game 4: Mariners 2 – Blizzard 1 on overtime
Game 5: Blizzard 6 – Mariners 2
Asked about Game 6, Mariners head coach Laurie Barron, said Tuesday afternoon, “For us there is no margin of error. It’s win or go home. We’ve been so good at home that it gives you a good feeling, we’ve had great success at home.”
Indeed, the Mariners have won eight of their nine home playoff games.
Asked about the team overall, Barron says the Mariners are a very resilient team, both in playoffs and throughout the season.
“We lost a tough game against Truro in Game 6 and one of our top forwards was out injured and couldn’t play Game 7 and we bounced back," he said. "We played that South Shore team and won after going 1-5 against them this season, we found a way to win.”
He said in this final series the team has bounced back from two tough double overtime losses and had their own overtime win to even the series after Game 4.
“I have no doubt we’ll hope on the bus tomorrow and head for Edmundston for Game 7,” he said.
The travel is no doubt a grueling part of this final playoff run as it’s about 1,000 kilometres (and that’s just one way) between Yarmouth and Edmundston, which makes for long bus rides of around 10 hours or more, depending on stops along the way.
For Game 6 the Blizzard opted to forego the bus trip and instead arrived by plane at the Yarmouth International Airport around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.
André Lebel, president of the franchise, said it was a good flight – albeit expensive – that saved a lot of time on the road.
“A 50-minute flight instead of an 11-hour drive, plus usually we sleep halfway, so it was great,” he said. “It was a big decision, it cost a little bit of money, but I think for the kids it’s going to be a good thing for them to play their best game tonight.”
Lebel said the players are feeling confident going into Game 6 but they also know nothing is a given.
“They know we have to work hard because we have a tough team to play against, it’s not in the pocket. You need 150 per cent,” said Lebel. “Both teams are so equal. They have their four great lines and a good goalie, and us, we have three good lines and defensemen and a good goalie. The teams are similar. At that point of time luck usually makes a difference.”
If it goes to a Game 7 he’s asked – jokingly – “Will you send the plane back to Yarmouth?” He laughs, and then takes the opportunity to comment about what a great organization Yarmouth is, from its ownership, to coaching staff and down to its players.
“Before the games the coaches talk, they laugh. When we play hockey it’s competitive and everybody is playing to win, but before the game and after the game both teams are really in good shape,” he said. “We appreciate Yarmouth. Having our team in Edmundston has worked out well. It’s a great thing for MHL hockey all around.”
Meanwhile, asked what role the fans can help play during Game 6, Yarmouth Mariners coach Laurie Barron said there’s a reason why many years ago the team retired jersey #7, which is the number given to the fans.
“The fans are the seventh man on the ice, that’s so important,” he said. “Edmundston feed on it in their building and we really feed on it here too. There’s an amount of pride of playing at home and we use it to our advantage and tonight will be no different.”
He added he liked the Mariners odds in a Game 7 in Edmundston.
"I think that the home town still has a little advantage, but I think a lot of times there's a lot of pressure playing in your home barn for a Game 7," he said.