OUA East Hockey Semifinal: Ravens and Patriotes meet in Game 3

One half of the OUA Eastern Conference final is set, after the McGill Redmen defeated the Nipissing Lakers 6-4 last night to sweep their semifinal series.

Tonight, we find out which team the Redmen will face.

Game three of the OUA Eastern Conference semifinal between the Carleton Ravens and the UQTR Patriotes is set for 7 p.m. this evening in Trois-Rivières. UQTR is ranked ninth in the nation, while Carleton is ranked tenth.

Either outcome from tonight’s game would create a compelling matchup with McGill. The Patriotes and the Redmen have met in the conference final in each of the last three seasons, and one of those two teams has represented the OUA East at Nationals in 12 out of the last 13 years.

The Carleton Ravens, on the other hand, have not made it to an OUA Eastern Conference Final since the program was reborn in 2007. They were the only team to defeat the Redmen in regulation this year, when they shutout McGill in back-to-back home games.

Below, I’ll preview tonight’s Game 3, make a bold (and probably foolish) prediction, and discuss a voting quirk in the OUA Eastern Conference All-Star team.

(As an aside, it should be a great night for hockey across the OUA, as game three of both the Western-Waterloo and Guelph-Laurier series will faceoff this evening. Get yourself to a rink if you live nearby.)

(#2) UQTR Patriotes vs. (#3) Carleton Ravens

How we got to Game 3:
Each team took advantage of home ice, splitting the first two games of the series with wins in front of a friendly crowd.

On Wednesday, UQTR got a goal from Pierre-Alexandre Joncas just 48 seconds into the first period to build a lead they would never relinquish, in a 4-2 game one victory.

Carleton answered back on Friday night, getting goals from two-thirds of their top six forwards en route to a 4-1 win.

(If home ice ends up being a factor in Game 3, the Ravens will be kicking themselves for a sloppy 4-1 loss to the Patriotes on the last weekend of the regular season that cost them the second seed.)

Why UQTR could win: They can score goals with ease.

UQTR’s top two lines have been red-hot thus far in the playoffs. Felix Petit, Olivier Donovan, and Jeff Desjardins have combined for 18 points in five games, while the Patriotes’ versatile second-line of Joncas, Etienne Bellavance-Martin, and Jean-Sebastien Breton have been even better, with 19 points.

When you add-in the offensive flair of defenceman Pierre-Luc Lessard (29 points during the regular season), and the slumping Francis Charland (118 points in 93 career games; only 1 assist thus far in the playoffs) you get a team that is as dangerous as any in the CIS.

Why Carleton could win: They’re the better team.

Carleton has outshot UQTR 62-39 in the series thus far, and their defense is as solid as any unit in the league, giving up an average of 2.32 goals against per game — the fourth best GAA in the CIS.

The Ravens can also match the Patriotes offensively, as Carleton’s top line of Brandon MacLean, Joey Manley, and Ryan Berard has combined for a playoff-high 23 points.

They’ll need First Team All-Star netminder Mathieu Dopud (more on him at the bottom of this post) to be better if they hope to win, however. A .872 save percentage in the series isn’t good enough, especially since Patriotes goaltender Jean-Christophe Blanchard seems to have finally found his game, after struggling during the regular season.

Bold Prediction: I’m sticking with my original prediction (Carleton in 3) and taking the Ravens to upset the Patriotes tonight. In a fairly close game, I’m inclined to favor the team with better special teams, and that’s definitely Carleton:

Carleton Power Play: 21.4% (regular season); 20.7% (playoffs)
UQTR Power Play: 17.6% (regular season); 14.3% (playoffs)

Carleton Penalty Kill: 86.7% (regular season); 90.5% (playoffs)
UQTR Penalty Kill: 77% (regular season); 82.6% (playoffs)

(The year-to-year drop-off for UQTR’s special teams is stunning. In 2009-10 they had the best power play, and the second-best penalty kill, in the OUA East.)

So I'll say Carleton wins it 5-2, including a late empty-net goal. While the game will not be webcast, Matt Di Nicolantonio will be live tweeting the game for the Charlatan, if you're interested in keeping tabs on the score.

Notebook: Two Top Goaltenders

Carleton rookie netminder Mathieu Dopud was the OUA East’s top goaltender this season. Except that he wasn’t the OUA East’s “Top Goaltender.”

Due to a quirk in voting, Dopud was named a First Team OUA East All-Star, yet McGill’s Hubert Morin took home the conference’s Top Goaltender award.

Understandably, both McGill and Carleton were displeased that Morin could win Top Goaltender, yet be named a Second Team All-Star, behind Dopud. It baffles all logic, as coaches from within the conference vote for both the All-Star team and the major awards (such as Top Goaltender).

A change in the voting procedure is likely. There seems to be some support for an idea I heard most recently from McGill Coach Kelly Nobes: the major award winners (MVP, top defenceman, and top goaltender) get an automatic berth on the First All-Star team, regardless of the All-Star vote totals.

(McGill hockey fans are particularly ornery about award voting this week, after Concordia goaltender Audrey Doyon-Lessard was named QUHL women’s hockey MVP, despite being named a Second Team All-Star. The first team All-Star netminder was McGill’s Charline Labonté.)

Yet I don’t blame the coaches for having trouble differentiating between Morin and Dopud, since their regular season stats were almost identical:

Dopud: 17 games, .914 save percentage, a 2.11 GAA, and 2 shutouts.
Morin: 18 games, .915 save percentage, a 2.18 GAA, and 1 shutout.

One can’t even separate the two by looking at team performance when each squad had to play its backup goalie, as McGill’s Antoine Tardif had a .908 SV%, while Carleton’s Ryan Dube had a .905 SV%. The drop-off in winning percentage and goals against average was also not significantly different, when adjusted for difficulty of opposition.

So perhaps it’s fitting that both Morin and Dopud were recognized for their play this season — consistency and logic be damned.
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