So which Newfoundland Growlers team will take to the ice Tuesday night at Mile One Centre?
The one that found ways to snag one-goal wins in the first three games of its ECHL playoff series with the Brampton Beast, or the one that was outscored 12-3 in its two most recent contests?
Or has it actually been the same Growlers club all the way through, and this is a case of the Beast awakening with a snarl just in time to get back into the best-of-seven matchup that continues with Game 6 Tuesday (7 p.m.) at Mile One?
Newfoundland had a couple of chances to advance to the second round of the Kelly Cup playoffs last week in Brampton, Ont., but fell behind early on both Thursday and Saturday and failed at the game of catchup, losing 4-1 and 8-2.
That leaves the Newfoundland leading 3-2 in a series that will conclude at Mile One this week, either tonight or in a Game 7 which would be played Wednesday.
The eight goals the Growlers surrendered in Saturday’s Game 5 were the most given up by any team so far in this year’s ECHL post-season. What may be more troubling is that they came on just 25 shots (one of them was an empty-netter).
Even then, Growlers’ goaltender Michael Garteig, who has started and finished every one of the five games so far in the series, has a fairly respectable 2.78 goal-against-average and .902 save percentage in his first professional playoff run.
But that’s not going to do the trick playing behind a team that’s averaged less than two goals a game in the series and hasn’t really found a solution to Brampton goaltender Etienne Marcoux, the former QMJHL and University of New Brunswick standout who has been a three-star selection (three firsts, a second and a third) in all five games.
Marcoux’s .951 save percentage leads all qualified goalies in these ECHL playoffs, a stat he improved upon Saturday in stopping 42 of 44 Newfoundland shots directed his way.
So far, Marcoux’s work has contributed to making the Growlers’ offence fairly consistent, but not in the best sort of way. Newfoundland has scored two goals in three of the games, the single tally in Thursday’s Game 4 and three markers in a Game 3 victory, but only after the contest was pushed to double overtime.
The Growlers’ output hasn’t been helped much by the power play, which is three-for-23 (13 per cent success rate) in the series. It was a particular letdown on Saturday, when Newfoundland had two of the three man-advantage opportunities awarded in the opening period, but trailed 3-0 through 20 minutes.
Overall, the Growlers were one-for-six on the power play in Game 5, although it might also be seen as minus one-for-six since they also have up two shorthanded goals (one of them the empty-netter) in the game.
However, it can’t be all despair for the Growlers. Despite its difficulties in its last two outings, this is basically the same Newfoundland team that fashioned the third-most prolific offence in the 27-team league during the regular season, and its seventh-best power play.
In other words, there is the basis for the realistic expectation of scoring improvement.
And while the Beast have the momentum that comes with their consecutive wins, it’s the Growlers who still own the lead in the series and who tonight get a third straight opportunity to put things away, this time at Mile One, where they have gone 26-10-2 in 2018-19.
The Growlers-Beast winner will take on the Manchester Monarchs in the North Division final. The Monarchs moved on to the second round by dispatching the Adirondack Thunder 4-1 in their series … Former Acadia Axeman forward Boston Leir and veteran David Pacan, the game’s first star, each scored twice for Brampton Saturday. Marcus Power and Josh Kestner, each with their first pro playoff goals, replied for the Growlers, who trailed just 3-2 entering the third, when they gave up five unanswered markers, including three in one three-and-a-half minute span … Pacan, who also had two assists, and teammate Daniel Ciampani lead all scorers in the series with five points each. Power, Zach O’Brien and Giorgio Estephan topped Newfoundland with four points each … A stat that continues to stick out for O’Brien is penalty minutes. He has three minors in the first five games of the series. That’s as many as he had in 53 regular-season games en route to winning the league’s sportsmanship award. Not that O’Brien has been alone in trips to the sin bin. The Growlers have 96 penalty minutes in their five playoff games, although almost a third of those PIMs have come as the result of three misconducts …