The QMJHL has not been known for many upsets since switching to the 1-16 seeding system for their playoff matchups. The first round saw some utter domination and one massive upset. The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies scored 33 goals in four games, sweeping Drummondville. The two players to watch; Timo Meier and Francis Perron finished the series with 13 points each. The Val d’Or Foreurs finished with the second most points during the regular season. Unfortunately running into a fantastic performance from Samuel Montembeault was the end of the Foreurs run. Montembeault saved 93.3% of the 224 shots he faced. Etienne Montpetit was only able to stop 88.5% of the 164 shots on the other end. The rest of the first round was fairly uneventful with the favorites winning their series. With Val d’Or eliminated, four legitimate contenders remain. Rouyn-Noranda, Shawinigan, Saint John, and Gatineau all have an argument to be made in their favor as potential champions.
Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (1) vs Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (13)
Prediction: Huskies in 4
It is starting to look like the Huskies may have to wait a while before the loss column gets some attention. After facing 16 year old goaltender Tristan Berube in his first 4 QMJHL games, and awarded him with an 8.24 GAA, The Huskies run into the CHL goaltender of the week in Samuel Montembeault. Montembeault almost single handily advanced the Armada to round two. Hopefully the Armada are still in the mood to provide some more upsets, and still have not been fully satisfied with their accomplishments up to this point.
It will take another MVP performance from Montembeault for the Armada to dispose of the regular season champions. The Huskies won all six games between the two teams this season by a 17 goal margin. The Armada were out shot in all six games against the Foreurs in round one. Nine Huskies finished with more points than the Armadas top scorer, Kristian Pospisil. No matter what team stat is used as a comparison, the Huskies are heavy favorites once again.
Shawinigan Cataractes (2) vs Charlottetown Islanders (9)
Prediction: Cataractes in 6
Shawinigan had their awakening early, losing game one to Sherbrooke. Shawinigan will need to improve their special teams in round two in order to avoid a disappointing finish to the season. Shawinigan will not be able to escape a poor showing both with the man advantage and when short-handed as they did in round one. Charlottetown had their power play producing over 30% and also saw some quality goaltending in round one. Samuel Blais was outstanding for the Islanders putting up 12 points in the first round.
There is some buzz forming around a possible upset in this series. One reason for the growing concern about Shawinigan may be the fact that Rouyn-Noranda was so dominant and Shawinigan only showed their dominance in game three. The other factor to consider is the late season improvement of Charlottetown. Shawinigan had the league’s fourth best shooting percentage and fifth most shots on net. Charlottetown allowed the second most shots, but held the third best save percentage. Shawinigan has the top end talent and has been strong all season. After Daniel Sprong and Samuel Blais there is a lack of game breaking talent in Charlottetown. Shawinigan has two forward lines that can score at a high rate and some highly productive defenders. Look for Shawinigan to silence their critics.
Saint John Ice Dogs (3) vs Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (7)
Prediction: Ice Dogs in 6
Both the Screaming Eagles and the Ice Dogs had some peaks and valleys during the 2016 season. The Ice Dogs fought through some injuries. The Screaming Eagles had some goaltending concerns, and even split up their top line at one point during the season. Both teams fared as expected in the first round. They produced a fairly even goal and shot differential. The big separator in round one was the 15 short-handed situations for Saint John and the 38 for Cape Breton. The Screaming Eagles’ advantage lies with their offence. If that gets negated by taking penalties and giving up power play goals (seven in six games) this will be an easy win for Saint John.
The focus will be on one key matchup. The Screaming Eagles’ top line made up of Evgeny Svechnikov (DET), Maxim Lazarev, and Pierre-Luc Dubois (2016 Eligible) versus the Sea Dogs’ defence pairing made up of Thomas Chabot (OTT) and Jakub Zboril (BOS). Other than Zbori’s 55% GF this season, the other featured players all came in above 65%GF when on the ice. The coaches will need to be attentive to matchups. It will be crucial for each team to gain an advantage on any possible shift. Saint John took the season series 6-3. Expect more of the same as the Sea Dogs move on to the semifinals.
Gatineau Olympiques (5) vs Moncton Wildcats (6)
Prediction: Olympiques in 5
In round one versus the Quebec Remparts, Gatineau dominated on the ice but struggled to score in games one or two. The Olympiques were able to find their legs and complete the sweep, playing as expected in games three and four. Gatineau’s opponent for round two, the Moncton Wildcats, had a similar experience in round one, only winning games one and two in overtime. It took five games to finish off the Victoriaville Tigres. Moncton eventually showed their strength, winning their last two games by a total of seven goals.
Both teams will have a similar player leading the charge. Vitalii Abramov and Connor Garland are smaller-sized right wingers who are agile and creative players. Garland took the QMJHL scoring title and had 39 goals, Abramov finished fifth in scoring with 38 goals. Abramov has the better supporting cast and that will be the difference in this series. With Gatineau having home ice advantage, Garland can expect to see a lot of Yakov Trenin and Alexandre Carrier. When on the road Alex Alain and Nick Meloche add a nice back up plan to shutting down Garland. Moncton will have to hope to slow down the Olympiques, because they don’t have the horses on the back end to go up against Gatineau’s top line.
The second round should offer some more competitive games as the Q heads towards what might be a very intense and exciting semi final.