The rivalry between the Halifax Mooseheads and Moncton Wildcats is as robust as ever.
The teams met for the third time of the season on Saturday and went through their usual intense push and pull. In the end, the Wildcats pushed just a bit harder in a 4-2 win in front of 8,473 fans at the Scotiabank Centre.
"I thought we were OK in this one," Halifax defenceman Justin Barron said. "We took a step forward from our game Thursday night, which I thought we were pretty slow in. I thought we played a better full 60-minute game and we created some offence. We still have places we can get better defensively but, overall, that's a good Moncton team and it was a hard game. They played well and we played pretty well too."
In a season that feels like it's shaping up to be a contending year for the Wildcats and a possible rebuild for the Mooseheads, the teams' paths haven't diverged just yet. The Wildcats (19-5-0-0) are the hotter of the two and rose to No. 2 in the CHL rankings last week but the Mooseheads (11-11-2-1) are still right there with them.
The season series is 2-1 in Moncton's favour so far but one of those results was a Halifax overtime loss.
"It's always a good game with those guys and we're always definitely excited to play them every time," Barron said. "They've got a good team this year, a lot of of returning skilled forwards. I think going forward we just need to really bear down and shut their top two lines down because that's most of their offence."
The Mooseheads were able to keep it close all game and could easily make a case a few different breaks would've swung the game in their favour. If not for an unlucky deflection that gave Moncton a key second-period goal, it would've been a one-goal game going into the third. That alone changed the complexion the rest of the way.
"That was just bad luck, it happens," said Halifax winger Cole Foston. "We had a couple of bad bounces that were goals on us and they really capitalized on our mistakes. That was probably the difference."
Jeremy McKenna, Alexander Khovanov, Zachary L'Heureux and Isaac Wilson were the Wildcats scorers and Maxim Trepanier and Senna Peeters had the Mooseheads goals.
Cole McLaren and Alexis Gravel teamed up to make 31 saves for Halifax and Olivier Rodrigue stopped 20 shots for Moncton. McLaren got the start but turned over the net 9:40 into the game after giving up two goals on 10 shots.
"It wasn't our best but it wasn't our worst," Foston said. "All around I thought we played all right but I think if we could've had more shots on net it would've led to more goals."
Foston returned to the Halifax lineup for his first-ever game at the Scotiabank Centre. He hurt his knee in the second game of the year way back in September.
"I was pretty nervous going into it but I started to settle in once the game was on," said the rookie from Beaver Bank. "It was a good first one.
"I grew up watching this team from the stands and now I'm coming out on the ice. It feels pretty good."
The Mooseheads went into the weekend with at least one point in their past five games. They were 3-0-1-1 during that stretch.
Their next game is on Thursday on the road against the Bathurst Titan.
"Overall I think we're headed in a good direction," Barron said. "On the special teams, we weren't so good at the start of the year but we're definitely improving there. We were perfect on the PK tonight and we had two power-play goals so that's a step in the right direction.
"Obviously five-on-five we can be a bit better but that's just something we've got to get back to the drawing board on this week and get after it."
Notes: Jared McIsaac, Sonny Kabatay, Brendan Tomilson and Gavin Hart did not play for Halifax. ... Mooseheads forwards Maxim Trepanier extended his points streak to nine games and Bo Groulx got a late assist to stretch his to 10.