The French River Rapids put up a valiant battle against the Voodoos Thursday night, but their 5-4 loss dropped the Timmins Rock to fourth place in the NOJHL’s East Division standings — and a date with the Cochrane Crunch.
Heading into that contest, the Rock — having completed their 56-game regular season schedule — held a precarious one-point lead over the Voodoos for third place.
Any combination of outcomes short of a regulation loss by the Voodoos, however, would lock in a best-of-three play-in series between the Rock and the Crunch with Powassan earning a bye and the two points they picked up by downing the Rapids vaulted them past the Rock and into third place.
While the Rock — thanks in large part to their inability to beat the Voodoos at the McIntyre Arena in their final game of their regular season schedule on Sunday — won’t have a bye, they will enjoy home-ice advantage for the series.
The NOJHL has announced the series between the fourth-place Rock (33-20-3-0) and the fifth-place Crunch (31-20-1-4) will open at the McIntyre Arena on Saturday, at 7 p.m.
Game 2 in the series will be played at the Tim Horton Event Centre in Cochrane on Sunday, at 6 p.m.
If necessary, Game 3 would be played at the McIntyre Arena on Wednesday, at 7 p.m.
With just two points separating the two teams during the regular season, what can fans expect when the puck drops Saturday night?
In their eight regular season head-to-head meetings, the Rock went 6-1-1-0 and proved they can beat the Crunch either at the McIntyre Arena or the Tim Horton Event Centre.
• The first meeting of the 2018-19 campaign saw the Rock edge the Crunch 2-1 at the Tim Horton Event Centre on Sept. 28.
A second-period Riley Robitaille power-play marker stood up to be the game winner in that contest, with linemate Derek Seguin also scoring.
Each player had two points, while the lone Crunch goal was scored by Nicolas Flanders.
Tyler Masternak (29 saves on 30 shots) winning the crease battle against Zach Wickson (19 saves on 21 shots).
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• Game 2 of the season series saw the Rock skate to a 6-2 win over the Crunch at the McIntyre Arena on Nov. 16.
Eamon Bollinger, no longer with the club, netted the game-winning goal early in the second period. It was the first of two goals on the night for the right-hand shooting forward.
Defenceman Josh Anderson, Darcy Haupt, Seguin and Keegan McMullen also scored for the Rock.
The Crunch got goals from Seiji Martone and Flanders in the contest.
Masternak (21 saves on 23 shots) earned the win, while Bradley Dobson (12 saves on 17 shots) was tagged with the loss. Wickson (17 saves on 18 shots) appeared in relief.
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• The Crunch earned their first points in the series during a 5-4 overtime victory over the Rock at the McIntyre Arena on Dec. 11.
Justin Bofshever provided the OT heroics for the Crunch when he netted his second goal of the game.
Zach Hayes, Trent Grimshaw and defenceman Ethan Emanuel also scored for Cochrane in the contest.
Gage Tremblay’s goal late in the third period forced the extra period for the Rock, who also got goals from Josh Dickson, Matt Capisciolto and Seguin.
Dobson (20 saves on 24 shots) went the distance in goal for the Crunch to earn the win.
Masternak (22 saves on 27 shots) took the overtime loss for the Rock, with Jean-Marc Brisson (two saves on two shots) also seeing action in the contest.
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• The Rock returned to their winning ways against the Crunch when they posted a 4-2 win at the Tim Horton Event Centre on Jan. 25.
Benjamin Jossinet, no longer with the Rock, netted the game-winning goal with less than five minutes remaining in the third period.
Anderson, Tremblay and Seguin also found the back of the net for the Rock while Hunter Buzzi and Bofshever replied for the Crunch.
Masternak (31 saves on 33 shots) earned the win for the Rock, while Dobson (21 saves on 25 shots) was tagged with the loss for the Crunch.
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• Back at the McIntyre Arena on Jan. 27, the Rock edged the Crunch 4-3 to complete a sweep of their home-and-home series.
McMullen’ unassisted marker midway through the third period proved to be the game-winner and the Rock also got goals from A.J. Campbell, Dickson and Linden Spencer.
Flanders, Liam Anderson and Grimshaw replied for the Crunch.
Masternak (24 saves on 27 shots) earned the victory for the Rock, while Wickson (22 saves on 26 shots) was tagged with the loss for the Crunch.
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• The Rock suffered their first regulation loss — a 4-3 setback — to the Crunch at the Tim Horton Event Centre on Feb. 2.
Baldino Aiello’s third-period goal proved to be the game-winner for the Crunch, who also got goals off the sticks of Hayes, Ryan Grant and Brett Whitehead.
Dickson, Haupt and Robitaille replied for the Rock.
Wickson (40 saves on 43 shots) picked up the win for the Crunch, while Brisson (35 saves on 39 shots) was tagged with the loss for the Rock.
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• Back at the Tim Hortons Event Centre on Feb. 9 the Rock posted a 2-1 victory in a game that featured almost as much action off the ice following its conclusion.
An altercation that saw Crunch forward Nicholas Blachman try to get into the Rock dressing room saw police called to the arena and eventually resulted in the Miami native having his NOJHL playing rights rescinded.
On top of that, the Rock’s departure was delayed be cause the team bus got stuck in the parking lot.
On the ice, all the scoring occurred in the first period, with Spencer netting what would prove to be the game-winning goal after Campbell had put the Rock in front.
Hayes replied for the Crunch.
Masternak (30 saves on 31 shots) went the distance to record the win for the Rock, while Wickson (26 saves on 28 shots) was tagged with the loss for the Crunch.
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• The final regular season meeting of the two teams, Feb. 12 at the McIntyre Arena, was a high scoring affair with a shootout being required before the Rock secured a 7-6 victory.
McMullen had the lone tally in the four-round shootout, that saw the Rock continue their streak of not allowing a goal.
In regulation, the Rock got a pair of goals from Dickson and single tallies from Seguin, Tremblay, Riley Brousseau and Robitaille.
Flanders, Hayes, Grimshaw, Bofshever, blue-liner Eli Hernandez and Jacob Stos replied for the Crunch.
Masternak (23 saves on 29 shots, not counting shootout) went the distance to earn the victory from the Rock.
Dobson (32 saves on 38 shots) was tagged with the loss for the Crunch.
Goaltending can certainly be a deciding factor when it comes to playoffs — especially when you are talking about a best-of-three series.
So, how does Masternak match up against Wickson — barring injury, or poor play, the goalies likely to face each other in every game of the series.
Let’s check the numbers:
• Wins — Masternak 29 (first in NOJHL); Wickson 19 (fifth).
• Shutouts — Masternak 6 (first); Wickson 2 (tied for sixth).
• Goals against average — Masternak 2.51 (sixth); Wickson 2.55 (tied for seventh).
• Save percentage — Wickson .919 (sixth); Masternak .907 (15th).
In addition, Masternak (2,610 minutes) was the busiest goalie in the NOJHL this season, while Wickson (1,789) ranked seventh.
So, when it comes to goaltending, you have to give the advantage to the Rock and Masternak — and that’s without factoring in the goalie’s incredible 2018 playoff run.
Over all, the Rock (156) allowed the third-fewest goals in the NOJHL this season, while the Crunch (186) were ninth.
When it comes to offence, the only player either team has in the NOJHL’s Top 20 regular season scorers is the Rock’s Seguin (52, 34-30-64, 52) who finished sixth in the scoring race and ranked second in goals.
Six other Rock players — McMullen (54, 15-16-31, 34), Dickson (52, 14-17-31, 34), Capisciolto (51, 12-29-41, 20), Anderson (52, 11-33-44, 81), Robitaille (49, 11-22-33, 55) and Brousseau (53, 11-22-33, 29) — cracked the 10-goal plateau during the regular season.
While the Crunch didn’t have anybody among the NOJHL’s Top 20 scorers, the actually had nine players — Austin Whelan (55, 29-14-43, 10), Flanders (55, 18-26-44, 77), Stos (47, 16-19-35, 63), Hayes (55, 15-25-40, 16), Grimshaw (43, 15-22-37, 38), Bofshever (53, 15-18-33, 56), Buzzi (50, 14-19-33, 36), Caleb Dolman (54, 11-12-23, 24) and Aiello (53, 10-15-25, 2) hit or exceed the 10-goal plateau this season.
Overall, the Crunch (sixth in the NOJHL) outscored the Rock (ninth) 200-186 and it is easier to shut down one player (Seguin) than a more balanced attack.
Special teams, of course, are another key factor in deciding any playoff series.
To say neither squad excelled on the power play this season might be a bit of an understatement.
The Rock (15.0 percent) ranked 11th in the NOJHL in that category, following by the Crunch (13.5 percent), who were 12th.
When it comes to allowing shorthanded goals, the Rock (four) led the NOJHL, while the Crunch (five) were tird for third.
The Crunch (86.3 percent) feature the second-best penalty kill in the NOJHL, while the Rock (85.7 percent) are not far off at fifth.
When it comes to scoring shorthanded goals, the Crunch (11) are ranked second in the NOJHL, while the Rock (three) are tied for eighth place.
One of the key factors when it comes to winning special teams battles, of course, is staying out of the penalty box.
The Rock spent 776 minutes in the sin bin during the regular season, sixth most in the NOJHL, while the Crunch at 706 minutes were ninth.
Experience seems to favour the Crunch, as well, since they have seven 1998-birth-year players on their roster, compared to two for the Rock.
In a series this close, a deciding factor could be the two-game suspension picked up by Flanders during the Crunch’s final regular season game in Rayside-Balfour on March 3.
Flanders always plays his best hockey against the Rock and not having him in the lineup could prove costly for the Crunch.
What happened in the regular season means very little when the puck drops on the playoffs — just ask the Voodoos who were heavy favourites against the Rock in 2018.
So, the team that will win this best-of-three series will be … the team that takes Game 1 on Saturday.