2016 QMJHL second round preview: end of the line for the Armada

·Mike Sanderson
Rouyn-Noranda's Timo Meier led the playoffs in scoring in the first round, with 13 points in four games. (CP / Ghyslain Bergeron)
Rouyn-Noranda's Timo Meier led the playoffs in scoring in the first round, with 13 points in four games. (CP / Ghyslain Bergeron)

Welcome to Buzzing The Net’s preview of the second round of the QMJHL playoffs.

Only one series featured a true upset in the Q’s first round – 13th-seeded Blainville-Boisbriand dispatched fourth seed Val-d’Or in five games. No series went further than six games. All teams entering play will be well rested, and three of the four series provide very interesting matchups to survey.

In the first round, Mike went 6-for-8, missing Moncton and Blainville-Boisbriand. He called the winner in the correct number of games in four of the eight first round series. You may read his first round previews here and here.

Second round action opens in Saint John and Shawinigan Thursday night, and in Gatineau and Rouyn-Noranda Friday night.

(5) Gatineau Olympiques (49-15-3-1, 102 points) vs. (6) Moncton Wildcats (42-20-6-0, 90 points)

Season series: Moncton (1-0-1-0). Prediction: Olympiques in 6.

Series in a sentence: Offence wins games, but defence wins championships, and the Olympiques were the league’s top defensive club all season long.

Why the Olympiques should win: The Olympiques bread-and-butter is defence. They play a defensive system that works. They skate well and cut off angles. They get in passing lanes and suffocate teams. They’re physical. They’ll be the toughest test for Conor Garland and the Wildcats offence, fifth-best in the league.

The Olympiques offence isn’t anything to sneeze at either. They were the seventh-ranked scoring team and put together some dangerous lines on the offensive side and in the transition game. Vitalii Abramov followed up a 93 point rookie season with six points in the four game sweep of the Quebec Remparts in round one, and Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau led the team with eight points. Yan Pavel Laplante led the league in shorthanded goals in the regular season with seven, and Yakov Trenin brings a strong and fast game.

Their D corps might be as solid as any left in the playoffs, maybe tied with Saint John and top-ranked Rouyn-Noranda. Their top pairing of Nic Meloche and Alexandre Carrier is a great blend of offence and defence, with Carrier getting three assists in the first round, and Meloche using his great skating and reach to neutralize Remparts forwards in his +4 effort.

The experience of Guillaume McSween from Rimouski’s President’s Cup-winning team from last season has helped, and will only pay more dividends as the weather gets warmer.

How the Wildcats could win: They get a boost with the return of Kevin Klima, who finished tied for sixth in league rookie scoring. His 50 points will add to the offensive luster of his club.

Not that offence was an issue for the Wildcats in the first round. They had no trouble scoring goals in their first round series against Victoriaville, putting 23 pucks past Tigres netminders Olivier Tremblay and James Povall.

The Olympiques are in the midst of a goaltending issue of their own. Mathieu Bellemare didn’t get the call in game 4, backup goalie Mark Grametbauer did, and that could signal some problems. Bellemare let in three goals in 16 shots in game 3 and Grametbauer made 27 saves in a game 4 win.

Garland is always the X-factor, and he loves to play the villain. He did a good job of that in the first round, drawing the ire of several Tigres players, like Mathieu Ayotte, who was suspended for a cross-check on Garland that earned the Victoriaville forward a two-game suspension, or netminder Olivier Tremblay, who had a number of discussions with Garland during warmups in Victoriaville through the series, or the fans, who had fun with Garland’s comments and gestures of being rich during game 3. He antagonizes, he pokes and prods, and he gets the points to back it up.

Olympiques games at the Centre Robert-Guertin are particularly tough, but the Wildcats won their only visit of the year at the Bob, a 2-1 hard-fought effort at the tail end of a tough road trip in late February.

(3) Saint John Sea Dogs (42-20-6-0, 90 points) vs. (7) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (44-19-4-1, 93 points)

Season series: Saint John (6-3). Prediction: Sea Dogs in 7.

Series in a sentence: Both teams are missing key forwards, and the Sea Dogs depth is just a hair better than the Screaming Eagles, which will help as this won’t be a low-scoring goaltenders battle.

Why the Sea Dogs should win: Their depth is enough to scare most teams, even with the loss of leading scorer Mathieu Joseph for the rest of the playoffs. The duo of Sam Povorozniouk and Nathan Noel will stay intact, and Matthew Highmore’s energy will still be in the top 6 with two-way captain Spencer Smallman.

Joe Veleno, Boko Imama and Sam Dove-McFalls made a fun scoring third line in their first round series, and with Joseph on the shelf, Veleno may see some time at center and take advantage of his strong skating.

The Sea Dogs D is led by Thomas Chabot, a blueliner the Screaming Eagles don’t have an answer for. His five points in the first round were a telling point in the series, but it’s the +8 number that catches your eye. His presence on the ice makes teams think twice about their own play, as number 5 in blue can jump in the play with relative ease and create mismatches on odd-man rushes, as well as play his own end responsibly.

Luke Green came back in the final game of the Titan series, returning from a nasty hit-from-behind from Screaming Eagles forward Pierre-Luc Dubois. Dubois got two games for the hit, and it could provide some early-series sparks to the mix.

Marc-Antoine Turcotte had a better season than his Screaming Eagles counterpart Alexandre Belanger in the nets, and with the exception of game 4 in the Titan series, he was solid. He only needs to be good, not great, with the defence in front of him.

How the Screaming Eagles could win: The Russian pair of Evgeny Svechnikov and Maxim Lazarev had 10 points apiece in their opening round series win against the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. Michael Joly added nine points to make a heck of a top line.

The Screaming Eagles have a strong team defence, demonstrated by their strong blue line play while their top defender, Loïk Léveillé, was suspended for two games. Duncan MacIntyre and Tobie Paquette-Bisson stepped up, in particular. They’ll need to repeat that performance against the deep Sea Dogs offence.

Captain Clark Bishop could return if the series goes long, and could be a big boost to the team if he does make an appearance in the lineup. The secondary scoring of Giovanni Fiore, Massimo Carozza and Dubois will look to improve their numbers in the second round. If they do, their depth could look comparable to Saint John’s on the offensive side of the ice.

The Screaming Eagles did their damage against one of the best goalies in the league in Julio Billia. Turcotte is a couple of notches below Billia in the talent department. If Cape Breton can get some quality scoring chances together, they could expose the goaltending of the Sea Dogs.

(2) Shawinigan Cataractes (44-19-4-1, 93 points) vs. (9) Charlottetown Islanders (27-39-2-0, 56 points)

Season series: Shawinigan (2-0). Prediction: Islanders in 6.

Series in a sentence: The Islanders are playing well as a unit, matching up against a team that hasn’t played up to the sum of its parts.

Why the Cataractes should win: The Cataractes got their offence going in spurts in the first round. Dmytro Timashov led the team in points with nine in the first round, and he had four multi-point games. Alexis D’Aoust had a point or more in every game of the series. Cavan Fitzgerald and Danny Moynihan looked like good pickups with seven points apiece in the first round five-game win over the Sherbrooke Phoenix.

More importantly, Shawinigan has a few sleeping giants that could wake up in a big way in the second round. Anthony Beauvillier had five points, but all in the final three games. Dennis Yan had a three point game in game 3, then mostly quiet with just one point in the rest of the games. Gabriel Gagné had a four-point game in game 3 then was silent in the rest of the series, held pointless in the other games. Samuel Girard, the CHL’s top scoring defenceman, had just four points in five games. If those guys can get their games on track, it could be a short series.

Philippe Cadorette was on his game in the first round, with a .926 save percentage and a GAA a shade under two. He will continue that play, as his track record of 65 career QMJHL playoff games dictates. The Cataractes are in good hands with the best playoff goalie in the history of the league on their side.

How the Islanders could win: Luckily, the Islanders have the goalie who has the talent to match Cadorette save-for-save. Mason McDonald was very solid in the first round victory over the Rimouski Oceanic, with a .922 save percentage of his own, and Team Canada pedigree to his credit. This series is likely to be the best goaltender battle of the playoffs, and one the Islanders could win.

The Samuel Blais pick-up has looked better and better as time goes on for the Islanders. 12 points in the first round is a terrific output for the forward, just one off the league lead. He compliments Daniel Sprong’s north-south game with a robust east-west game that keeps defenders on their toes.

Jake Coughler’s six points say he’s not ready to come back to earth, and maybe his second half with the team is the real deal. Alexis Vanier’s seven points is a welcome push from the back end, including some overtime heroics.

As we mentioned in the first round preview, Shawinigan didn’t have the strongest second half, and that play showed in some parts of the first round, especially game 1 against the Phoenix. It will be on Claude Bouchard to find the best ways to use his forwards, and it’s clear that there is some chemistry to be had, with some players having large single-game numbers in the series.

If he can’t find that magic formula, the Islanders have the firepower to send the Cataractes home unhappy for the 47th straight season of the franchise.

(1) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (54-9-3-2, 113 points) vs. (13) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (26-32-8-2, 62 points)

Season series: Rouyn-Noranda (6-0). Prediction: Huskies in 4.

Series in a sentence: The Huskies have won 18 games in a row and are just getting warmed up against a Cinderella squad who can hear midnight bells.

Why the Huskies should win: The Huskies outscored the Drummondville Voltigeurs 33-4 in their four-game sweep. The closest score was 7-3. The Volts didn’t score until game 3 of the series, and the Huskies scored 10 goals twice.

Timo Meier and Francis Perron have found some instant chemistry, with 13 points each in the opening round. Meier’s eight goals lead the league, as does Perron’s 10 assists.

And as it says above, Rouyn-Noranda haven’t lost since Feb. 17 against the Val-d’Or Foreurs. That’s 18 straight games, including playoffs.

How the Armada can stretch out the series: They’ll need a repeat performance of everything that went right in the first round, only now instead of facing a questionable goaltender in Etienne Montpetit, they are now facing Chase Marchand, or even Samuel Harvey, as Bouchard used both goaltenders to give them some ice time in the first round.

They were able to lull the Foreurs to sleep and attack when the time was right, with key goals by Jan Dufek, Joël Teasdale and a monster series from Philippe Sanche, who had 11 points and looked no worse for wear coming back from a dangerous leg injury during the season.

Sanche and the offence will need to do that against a defence led by Jérémy Lauzon, Philippe Myers and Nik Brouillard, along with other key contributors. Val-d’Or’s defence corps weren’t as deep as Rouyn-Noranda’s.

Samuel Montembeault will need to repeat his hot play against the league’s top team for the Armada to have any shot at this series.

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