By Earl Zukerman
Sophomore Christophe Longpre-Poirier celebrated his 23rd birthday in fine fashion Wednesday night. The 5-foot-10, 200-pound centre from Longueuil, Que., scored the game-winning goal at 17:43 of the third period as top-seeded and No. 2-ranked McGill rallied for a 2-1 victory over eighth-seeded Ottawa in the opening game of their men’s hockey OUA Eastern Conference best-of-three quarter-final series at McConnell Arena.
It was McGill’s 11th straight win over the Gee-Gees sine a 3-2 setback in Game 2 of the 2009 quarter-finals.
Rookie rearguard Dominic Jalbert of Hull, Que., had given Ottawa a 1-0 advantage on the power-play at 16:46 of the first period. That lead held up until the third period, when Redmen sniper Francis Verreault-Paul, making his first appearance after a four-game absence to injury, buried a behind-the-net feed pass from Alex Picard-Hooper at 7:20 of the final period.
“It wasn’t our best effort and we’ll have to adapt our game,” said Longpre-Poirier, who now has 22 career goals, two of them game-winners, in 83 contests overall for the Redmen. “But we improved as the game went on and found a way to win. ”
McGill, which had a 36-26 edge in shots, survived a 6-on-3 scare in the final 95 seconds after Marc-Andre Daneau and Maxime Langelier-Parent – their top two penalty-killers – were sent to the sin-bin for hooking and cross-checking at 18:25 and 19:23, respectively. Ottawa head coach Dave Leger then pulled goaltender Harrison May for a rare three-skater advantage.
Goaltender Hubert Morin, an engineering sophomore from St. Georges de Beauce, Que., was equal to the task and made several key saves to preserve the victory. He ended up with 25 saves and improved to 8-3 lifetime in post-season play.
“We were a little tentative to start, weren’t moving our feet and they trapped us which contributed to our flat start,” said Redmen head coach Kelly Nobes. “We also hit three crossbars in the first half of the game, which didn’t help our cause but we gained some momentum in the second period, sparked by Longpre-Poirier’s line.”
The team’s fourth line, which included sophomore Jean-Francois Boisvert of Mirabel, Que., and freshman Benoit Levesque of Vaudreuil, Que., was credited with 11 hits, three shots and the winning goal.
“They were momentum changers for us,” added Nobes. “They had back-to-back shifts in the second period which turned our game around. They created havoc with their pressure on that first shift, then followed up with another great shift that drew a penalty.
“Longpre-Poirier was the catalyst tonight. He is a very serviceable player that fits in nicely on any line. He brings a ton of energy on the ice and has lots of enthusiasm on the bench. He does all the little things well, wins faceoffs, battles hard and kills penalties too. ”
Game 2 of the series goes Friday night in Ottawa. If a rubber match is needed, it will be back at McConnell Arena Sunday at 7 p.m.
REDMEN RAP: The game started 15 minutes late after a fire alarm was triggered by the smoke from a portable propane tank used by players to curve their sticks prior to the warm-up… The Redmen iced their first relatively full line-up since early December, with six of their seven injured players back… The only one still out of action is Patrick Belzile, who has missed 12 games with a broken hand but is expected to be cleared to play in the near future… Thursday night’s National Hockey League game between Detroit and Tampa will feature the first-ever meeting in NHL history between two head coaches who are both Redmen alumni. Lightning bench boss Guy Boucher has hinted that he will be wearing his blue McGill school tie when he goes head-to-head against Mike Babcock of the Red Wings, who could be wearing his red McGill cravat for the first time since leading the Canadian Olympic team to a gold medal in Vancouver last year… Also on the Tampa bench will be assistant coach Martin Raymond, who also played and coached at McGill.