After a long regular season that has seen its share of ups and downs, the playoffs have finally arrived for the Halifax Mooseheads.
The Mooseheads begin their quest for the President Cup tonight at home against the Quebec Remparts.
On paper, this is a series that favours a Halifax team that finished the season as the top seed in the Eastern Conference, 35 points ahead of a Quebec club that wrapped up the 2018-19 QMJHL campaign in eighth place in the conference.
That isn't how it played out during the regular season, however, and this series won't be a cake walk for the Herd.
The teams met just twice with the Remparts coming out on the winning end of both contests.
Quebec topped Halifax 6-2 back on Oct. 3, handing the Mooseheads their first loss of the season.
Dereck Baribeau made 25 saves in the victory while Louis-Filip Cote and Aleksei Sergeev each scored twice for the Remparts.
Philipp Kurashev also chipped in a goal and two assists in that early season win.
But of the four players mentioned above, however, only Kurashev will play in Game 1.
Sergeev suffered a broken collar bone back on Mar. 6 and will miss the opening round series with the Mooseheads while Baribeau and Cote were involved in two of the 15 transactions that general manager (and head coach) Patrick Roy made during the trade period.
Baribeau was dealt to Baie-Comeau on Dec. 20, while Cote was flipped to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, the team that drafted him eighth overall back in 2015, on the same day.
Roy was the busiest GM in the league during the trade period but he told NEWS 95.7 at that time that he would not make a deal involving his top four scorers: Kurashev, Bedford's Andrew Coxhead, Matthew Grouchy, and Sergeev.
"We didn't want to touch these four guys because we want to give our fans a team that is fun to watch," Roy said on the Burrito Jax Pre-Game Show ahead of the Jan. 5 meeting between the Mooseheads and Remparts at the Scotiabank Centre.
"We know where we are in the standings, we know that there are teams that are much better than we are, but we want to be able to compete every night and give some decent games to our fans -- but it was also important for us to get some draft picks."
Despite embracing a rebuild during the trade period, the Remparts skated away from the Jan. 5 meeting with two points, defeating the Mooseheads 4-3 in overtime.
If the Quebec Remparts are to replicate that regular season success in the playoffs, they will have to rely on hard work and their solid, defensive play. A well-coached club with Roy at the helm, the Remparts lack offensive depth up front and will look to Kurashev, Coxhead and Grouchy for much of their production.
They have also been getting some solid goaltending from Carmine-Anthony Pagliarulo, an 18-year old from Montreal who was acquired from the Rimouski Oceanic for a fifth round pick on Dec. 17.
Pagliarulo will get his first career playoff start tonight agains the Mooseheads
The Mooseheads should have the edge in every area of the ice: they have four forwards, three defencemen and a goaltender who have been selected by NHL clubs while the Remparts have only Kurashev, a fourth round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks last June.
Up front, Halifax will be led by the QMJHL's leading goal scorer Samuel Asselin who finished the season with 48 goals. But after scoring just once during the final seven games of the season, he'll be looking for a fresh start.
Defenceman Jared McIsaac had a very consistent season and his numbers in 2019 have been stellar, recording 40 points since returning from World Juniors.
In goal, Alex Gravel finished the season with the third most wins in the league and some solid numbers: 33-13-1-2, 2.49 GAA and a .913 SV%.
However, the statuses of top skaters Raphael Lavoie, Antoine Morand, and Max Trepanier remain up in the air.
Lavoie and Morand, who were both injured on the first shift of a 3-2 loss to Moncton on Mar. 9, will likely return at some point during the opening round against the Remparts but it is unclear if they will be ready for tonight's game.
Lavoie, however, did participate in his team's practices this week while Morand and Trepanier continue to skate.
You can follow along to tonight's game and every game throughout the playoffs on NEWS 95.7.
Don't forget to tune into the Burrito Jax Pre-Game Show at 6:30 p.m. before each home game (and stick around after our Dartmouth Dodge Mooseheads Hockey broadcast for the East Side Mario's Post-Game Show).
DARTMOUTH DODGE MOOSEHEADS HOCKEY ROUND 1 BROADCAST SCHEDULE:
Game 1: Friday, March 22 at 7 p.m. in Halifax
Game 2: Saturday, March 23 at 7 p.m. in Halifax
Game 3: Tuesday, March 26 at 8 p.m. AT in Quebec City
Game 4: Thursday, March 28 at 8 p.m. AT in Quebec City
Game 5*: Saturday, March 30 at 8 p.m. AT in Quebec City
Game 6*: Monday, April 1 at 7 p.m. in Halifax
Game 7*: Tuesday, April 2 at 7 p.m. in Halifax