HALIFAX - The Halifax Mooseheads had the best regular season in Quebec Major Junior Hockey League history and are undefeated in the post-season after sweeping their first three opponents.
Now is not the time to overthink in the strategy department and move away from what earned them a berth in the QMJHL final against the Baie-Comeau Drakkar.
"We've played a certain style all year," said Mooseheads centre Nathan MacKinnon. "We don't want to change too much in the playoffs."
Halifax, the No. 1-ranked team in the CHL, finished the regular season 58-6-3-1, posting the fewest losses in QMJHL history and the second-fewest ever in the Canadian Hockey League. Only the 1978-79 Brandon Wheat Kings lost fewer games — five in a 72-game season.
MacKinnon said each round has been tougher and he expects the Drakkar to play a different style than the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies — their semifinal opponent.
"Baie-Comeau plays a little more of a simple game and hard-working," he said. "Rouyn was kind of run-and-gun, so we're going to have be ready for that. We'll see what they throw at us. They might be very patient, they might not."
The Mooseheads scored the most goals in the league and allowed the fewest so they can win a close-checking game or a shootout. The Mooseheads have great depth and three players — MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Martin Frk — who are averaging two points per game in the playoffs.
The Drakkar, who finished second in the regular season with a 44-19-2-3 record and allowed the third-fewest goals in the QMJHL, will be their toughest challenge.
Baie-Comeau general manager Steve Ahern brought in coach Eric Veilleux, who coached the Shawinigan Cataractes to a Memorial Cup championship last season, and that has helped propel the Drakkar to this year's final.
"He brought a structure to our team and his philosophy is the same as mine," Ahern said. "Our young players listened to him because he's coached in a lot of big games and we made some big improvements."
Ahern said the Drakkar are doing "the little things" such as blocking shots and finishing checks and that's why they've only lost two playoff games this spring.
"We have players who are intense, who work as a team, and play with pride," he said.
Straka is a former QMJHL rookie of the year who resurrected his career by recording 82 points in 55 regular-season games with the Drakkar. He is also their leading playoff scorer.
Zykov, the team's second-round pick in the CHL Import Draft, scored 40 goals and 75 points as a rookie.
"He adapted pretty quickly," Ahern said.
Halifax coach Dominique Ducharme says his players have been enthusiastic but serious in practice this week.
"They're ready for this challenge," he said, adding that there is no chance for complacency because of the wealth of playoff experience his players got last season.
"They have confidence, but they're not over-confident," Ducharme added. "All year, we focused on ourselves, at getting better, and at trying to reach perfection."
This showdown comes almost two years after the teams held the top two picks in the 2011 QMJHL draft. Baie-Comeau won the draft lottery that year and picked MacKinnon first overall. Halifax, which had the No. 2 pick thanks to a trade with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, took Jonathan Drouin at No. 2, but immediately went to work to acquire MacKinnon, who didn't want to play in Baie-Comeau.
Halifax gave up two players who are still with the Drakkar — Carl Gelinas and Francis Turbide — and three first-round picks.
In MacKinnon's first visit to Baie-Comeau in February 2012, Drakkar fans dressed in diapers to taunt MacKinnon and booed him every time he touched the puck.
"That happened a while ago," MacKinnon said. "Most people are over it, but I'm sure the fans will have a little fun come Game 3."
The best-of-seven final begins Friday night in Halifax. The winner will represent the QMJHL at the Memorial Cup in Saskatoon from May 17-26.