For much of the season, the East’s playoff picture has seemed fairly stable. The Hamilton Pistols seemed likely to finish atop the division, while the Quebec Tigres and Washington Galaxy would battle it out for second place. Then the Galaxy collapsed after the All-Star break, and a Pistols-Tigres playoff looked likely, with Hamilton still on track to finish first. Even when the Tigres went on an 8-1-1 stretch to close within 4 points of the Pistols, that margin persisted for weeks, as both team stumbled down the stretch.
But as the season entered its final week, a strange thing happened: Hamilton continued to struggle, while Quebec starting winning. That set up a showdown on the last day of the season at Centre Citadelle: If the Pistols won, they’d hold on to the top spot. If Quebec won, they’d tie Hamilton in the points column but would win the division based on having more total wins.
“We’ve come so far this season,” said Pistols LW Steven Alexander. “Now we’ve got to go out there and finish the job.”
Unfortunately for Alexander’s club, they ran into a stone wall in the form of Quebec goalie Riki Tiktuunen, who stopped all 30 Hamilton shots. The game remained scoreless until Tigres LW Rupert MacDiarmid went five-hole three and a half minutes into the second period. Quebec took advantage of a 5-on-3 power play in the third period, scoring twice to secure a 3-0 victory. The orange-clad throngs roared their approval as the Tigres traded high-fives and waved their sticks in appreciation.
“This is a tribute to this wonderful team,” said Tigres coach Martin Delorme, who joins his team in making his first trip to the postseason. “They have been doubted and dismissed many times, but they have ignored the critics and worked hard and won. I am sure the same doubters will believe that they cannot win the Vandy, but we are prepared to keep working hard and win it.”
As for the Pistols, who were on top of the world last week after punching their first-ever playoff ticket, they’re now faced with the cold reality of losing home-ice advantage in the upcoming series after losing 10 of their last 13 games.
“Obviously, we haven’t finished up the regular season the way we wanted to,” said Pistols coach Keith Shields. “But we’re going to put that behind us. It’s not like we forgot how to score, or that the talent that got us this far suddenly dried up. We just have to keep playing our game, keep believing in ourselves, and we’ll get ourselves back on track.”