Tonight's Memorial Cup Finals were especially important for Avalanche fans, as they featured all three of the top ranked players in this years NHL Draft. If Avalanche scouts and fans were looking for a definitive statement out of Seth Jones as this years would-be #1 pick, they should look away now, as Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin dominated this game from start to finish and secured a championship for their Mooseheads.
The first few minutes of this memorial cup final were somewhat tentative, as both teams seemed to feel each other out and look for a cracks in their opponents’ armor. At 15:50 in the first period, fans were treated to their first battle between the 2013 top draft picks as Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon made a nice give and go play in the high slot. As the puck worked its way into the corner Seth Jones headed off the Mooseheads’ Drouin and pinned him along the boards.
6 minutes into the first period Jonathan Drouin deked his way through the entire Portland team for an open net opportunity. However, he was hooked before putting the puck home. The Mooseheads dominated on the ensuing powerplay. First Nathan MacKinnon had a chance on the doorstep which would have been a sure goal, but he was unable to control the bouncing puck at the edge of the crease. The delay allowed Mac Currath to slide across and make the save. Moments later, Jonathan Drouin gathered the puck along the left side boards and sent a pass to the point where Konrad Abeltshauser fired a slapshot for the game’s first goal.
The Mooseheads took their early momentum and ran with it in the first half of the first period. After several good offensive chances, Nathan MacKinnon willed the puck into the back of the Winterhawks net. The Halifax center picked the puck up at center ice with a full head of steam and deked his way past two Winterhawks backcheckers before using Derrick Pouliot as a screen for a top shelf wrist shot.
Over the next five minutes the Winterhawks began to get their skates and settle down the game into a neutral zone trap. Until the Mooseheads next power play opportunity. From the left side boards Jonathan Drouin made another excellent pass to set up a one timer for his linemate, but Currath made the save. on the ensuing faceoff, Seth Jones picked up the puck behind his own net and danced his way into the Mooseheads’ zone before dishing a lead pass to a breaking Winterhawk’s forward.
The Winterhawks got their first real scoring chance of the game with just under 3 minutes left in the period when Paul Bittner fired a hard wrister for the top shelf. Zachary Fucale, who was very solid throughout the game made a strong save to hold the Mooseheads lead at three.
The Winterhawks came out of the first intermission intent on cutting down the Mooseheads’ lead. After some strong offensive possession from the Winterhawks, the Mooseheads almost took advantage of an oddman rush from their top line. Halifax’s top ranked forward pair attempted a give and go in the Portland zone, but Seth Jones made an excellent defensive play to break up their pass. The top ranked defenseman dropped to one knee and poked the pass away from Drouin before he could fire a shot on net.
Soon after, the Winterhawks had their best chance of the game to that point, when a Portland forward almost batted a puck out of the air to beat Fucale. The Winterhawks dominated the possession game over the first 5 minutes of the period, and had a great chance to capitalize on their offensive pressure when Halifax’s Matt Murphy took a penalty in the offensive zone. Although Portland would get a number of strong chances on the power play, they couldn’t beat the Halifax goaltender.
Halfway through the second period, Oliver Bjorkstrand sent the dangerous Mooseheads back on the power play. The Winterhawks penalty killing unit, which was absolutely shelled in the first period, came up big on the Moosehead’s third power play opportunity. Derrick Pouliot gathered the puck in his own zone and beat a pair of Mooseheads forwards to put a hard shot on net. Ty Rattie gathered the rebound and strung a centering pass to a streaking Nicolas Petan, who went forehand backhand to beat Zachary Futale.
Portland kept up the pressure and nearly scored their second goal of the night just a few minutes later. Seth Jones skated the puck up the right side of the neutral zone to Derrick Pouliot, who broke off the wall to center ice and fired a hard shot towards the Mooseheads net. Brendan Leipsic grabbed the rebound and shot it high and wide of the cage, where it was gloved out of mid air by Ty Rattie and tapped into the net. However, after a video review the goal was waved off.
With the Winterhawks threatening Halifax’s lead, the game started to get a bit more physical. Portland had a number of chances around the Halifax net which ended with some pushing and shoving and matching minor penalties. Seth Jones mobility and outlet passing was on display during the 4 on 4 matchup. Nicolas Petan passed the puck behind the net for Ty Rattie, who made an excellent touch pass to the slot for Seth Jones. Jones had no trouble burying the puck and cutting the Halifax lead to 1. Portland kept the pressure on in the waning minutes of the second period but was unable to tie the game.
The third period started off the most evenly matched as both teams wrestled for control of the game. In what was becoming an Avalanche scouts’ nightmare, Nathan MacKinnon made a statement for himself and broke the third period stalemate. The Halifax center gathered the puck off the boards after a shot wide of the net and, while muscling off Troy Rutkowski in the crease, kicked the puck to himself and chipped it puck past Currath for his second goal of the night. MacKinnon reopened the floodgates for his Halifax teammates, as he deked through the Portland defense again and drove the net with a hard backhand shot. Konrad Abeltshauser followed MacKinnon into the zone and buried the big rebound for the Mooseheads 5th goal of the night. For those keeping score, that’s MacKinnon (2G, 2A, 4Pts) and Drouin (5A).
Halifax continued to dominate the play throughout the third period, and seemed to deal the killing blow with their 5th goal, until Brendan Leipsic beat Fucale driving the net for a Nicolas Petan rebound. The goal breathed some life back into the Winterhawks, who set up a tic-tac-toe play between Ty Rattie and Nicolas Petan. Fucale made a strong pad save on Petan and held the Halifax lead at two.
The Mooseheads almost doubled up on Portland again when Stefan Fournier and Stephen MacAulay drew Mac Carruth out of his net and tried to deflect the puck off the goaltender and in. Carruth slid back into his goal and although he eventually knocked the puck into his net, the referee blew the whistle and waived off the goal.
With 1:16 seconds left in the game, and the goalie pulled, Portland cut the Halifax lead to one, once more. Derrick Pouliot made a beautiful backhand pass across the crease to Ty Rattie who fired a wrister top shelf. Unfortuantely for fans, there wasn’t enough left in the Portland tank to tie the game and send this thriller to overtime. Ryan Falkenham won a puck battle and tipped the puck up ice to Nathan MacKinnon, who put on the after burners and saucered the puck into Portland’s empty net to complete his hat trick and ice the game for Halifax.
With 3 goals, 2 assists, and a hand in 5 of Halifax’s 6 goals, Nathan MacKinnon won Memorial Cup MVP.
Reflections on the top 3
- Jones wasn’t very noticeable on defense, in the best way possible. His positioning is very strong and he’s a good enough skater that when he is caught out of position, he can often recover.
- Seth Jones' skating and outlet passing are outstanding, he never seems to drop his eyes and when he gets possession of the puck, it’s a near guarantee that the puck will be leaving his defensive zone.
- Seth Jones works really well behind his own net and uses the cage to shield himself well from forecheckers.We didn’t see much of Seth Jones’ slapshot in this one, but he did have a number of opportunities to manage the point, both at even strength and on the power play. Jones was very steady from the blueline and makes passes which open up the ice in the offensive zone for his entire team. Jones makes smart decisions from the point, but he does tend closer to safe than offensive, so don’t look for him to dominate an offensive zone like Erik Karlsson.
- In the two games between Portland and Halifax Nathan MacKinnon has nine points (6G, 3A)
- MacKinnon’s acceleration is amazing and he seems to jump up between opposing defensemen with ease. He handles the puck at will and seems to dance away from defenders sticks while always driving north south.
- The best word for MacKinnon’s game tonight has to be explosive. He was dangerous almost every time he touched the puck and is constantly, CONSTANTLY moving his feet.
- Speed, agility, strength, skill, MacKinnon was virtually unstoppable tonight and made a big statement in the biggest game of the year. He was one of the best competitors tonight and just seems to will his team to win.
- In the postgame show the color commentators spent a majority of the show comparing MacKinnon to Sidney Crosby…. So there’s that.
- Aaron Musick summed up Drouin’s evening best on twitter tonight saying: “Stamkos is going to put up 60 goals next to him.” This guys passing is just scary good. It isn’t just about accuracy here either, Drouin can wire a pass across the ice, saucer it over defenseman’s stick or float soft passes for big one timers. He makes great decisions on where to put the puck AND how to get it there.
- He’s a fast skater and is fearless with his body despite his small stature.
The Avalanche have an incredibly difficult decision ahead of them, but there are a few huge positives for this team as we approach the draft.
1. The Avs are getting a potential franchise player, no matter who they pick.
2. The 2nd and 3rd picks will be playing in the Eastern Conference.