2016 QMJHL third round playoff preview: the cream has risen to the top

·Mike Sanderson
Saint John's Thomas Chabot has been the league's best defenceman in the playoffs, with 17 points from the back end and solid two-way play. (CP / Ghyslain Bergeron)
Saint John's Thomas Chabot has been the league's best defenceman in the playoffs, with 17 points from the back end and solid two-way play. (CP / Ghyslain Bergeron)

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

The second round is over, and from the smoke emerges four teams – the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, the Shawinigan Cataractes, the Saint John Sea Dogs and the Moncton Wildcats. The three division winners are still around, along with the Wildcats, who led the Maritimes division for a good stretch at the start of the season. The league finally had its first series that went the distance, when the Sea Dogs dispatched the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in Game 7 6-2.

In the second round, Mike went 2-for-4, and whiffed completely on Moncton and Shawinigan. That puts his playoffs predictions record at 8-for-12. He got the correct team and games in the Saint John series in the second round, meaning five of his twelve series predictions have been correct. You may read his second round preview here, and his first round previews here and here.

Third round action opens in Shawinigan and Rouyn-Noranda Friday night.

(2) Shawinigan Cataractes (44-19-4-1, 93 points) vs. (3) Saint John Sea Dogs (42-20-6-0, 90 points)

Season series: Saint John (2-0). Prediction: Cataractes in 6.

Series in a sentence: Experience makes the difference, but the losing team will be back in this spot again.

Why the Cataractes should win: Shawinigan is coming into the series slightly hotter than Saint John. The Cataractes have won their last three games, defeating the Charlottetown Islanders in six games. They have scored one more goal than the Sea Dogs over the playoffs so far, while giving up eight less goals.

They also scored six goals in each of their last three wins, with their big guns putting up the bulk of the offence.Dmytro Timashov, Anthony Beauvillier and Samuel Girard led the way with six points each in the final three games, while mid-season acquisitions Danny Moynihan, Gabriel Gagné and Cavan Fitzgerald potted in five points.

The injury to Mathieu Joseph didn’t slow down the scoring for the Sea Dogs in their series against the Screaming Eagles, but the Cataractes and netminder Philippe Cadorette are a different story, where you’ll want all your sharpshooters on deck. Joseph’s 33 regular season goals will be missed more in this series than the last one.

Not to mention Boko Imama still has four games to serve for his suspension on his hit on Tobie Paquette-Bisson, and that’s another top-9 forward out of the lineup for the Sea Dogs to start the series. Adam Marsh has missed the playoffs so far with a long-term injury.

The Cataractes and the Sea Dogs have never met in the playoffs, but they did meet twice in the 2012 Memorial Cup, with the Sea Dogs as the Q representative and the Cataractes as the host. Both games were highly competitive and intense – a Saint John 4-1 win in the round robin and a Shawinigan 7-4 win in the tournament semi-finals.

Both teams this year are comparable in talent to their teams in 2012, and should come together for a wild series.

Why the Sea Dogs could win: The Sea Dogs powerplay is clicking in the playoffs at 28%, and an even more deadly 40.9% on the road. The Cataractes have taken an average of 14-and-a-half minutes in penalties per game in the playoffs, so about seven minors. Saint John could have a major advantage on the man advantage.

Both teams have strong depth on offence, but the Sea Dogs, even with the injuries, bring a lot to the table. Sam Povorozniouk leads the team in scoring with 18 points in 12 games, with blueliner Thomas Chabot one point behind him. Matthew Highmore is benefitting from the ice-time Joseph would get, and has 15 points in the playoffs.

Chabot is four points ahead on the defenceman lead, over a pair of opponents in Fitzgerald (13 points) and Girard (12). He’s come to another level in the playoffs. The Sea Dogs didn’t have a set number one blueliner heading into the playoffs, thanks to their depth. Chabot, Jakub Zboril, Luke Green or Matt Murphy could step up and play as the number one defenceman on any given night, but Chabot has taken that ball and ran with it.

He is a strong outlet at any stage of the breakout. He carries the puck out with authority. He’s been very strong defensively, positionally and taking the body. He’s an ever-present trailer entering the zone, creating a target the opposing team always needs to be aware of. Chabot brings a new dimension to the game that can be an x-factor in this series.

Marc-Antoine Turcotte will have to play to the level of Cadorette for the Sea Dogs to have a good shot in this series. He has played one game of the playoffs prior to this year. It was in the third round, with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the 2013 playoffs.

He was pressed into service after an all-out brawl suspended all four regular goalies for a game in that series. Turcotte was set to back up Storm Phaneuf in the game, then Phaneuf got hurt, and Turcotte was forced to play, and played better than expected as the fourth-string netminder for the Armada in an overtime loss.

Turcotte’s numbers to this point in the playoffs are an 8-4 record, with a 2.92 GAA and a save percentage of .894. Cadorette boasts an 8-3, with a 2.42 GAA and a .920.

(1) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (54-9-3-2, 113 points) vs. (6) Moncton Wildcats (36-21-9-2, 83 points)

Season series: Rouyn-Noranda (2-0). Prediction: Huskies in 6.

Series in a sentence: Wildcats are hot (8-3 in the playoffs), but Huskies are hotter (22-1 in their last 23 games).

Why the Huskies should win: They’re on a huge roll. They’ve shut out their opponents in five of their eight wins so far.

They outscored the Voltigeurs 33-4 in their first round series sweep, and followed that up with 14-2 in the Armada five-gamer. They’ve given up six goals all playoffs so far.

The benefits of the seeding means the Huskies, who were the best team in the regular season, faced the 16th and the 13th seeds, both of whom battled for those positions in the final week of the season.

So basically, the Huskies have been dominant. Starting goaltender Chase Marchand has a .981 save percentage, having faced an average under 20 shots a start. He's posted all his team's five shutouts, and adds a GAA of 0.41.

The Huskies have six players at a point-a-game or better in the playoffs, including NHL picks Timo Meier, Francis Perron, Jean-Christophe Beaudin and Matrins Dzierkals. Joining that group is A.J. Greer, who’s played great since joining the team in January from Boston University, and defenceman Nik Brouillard, who’s attended three NHL camps in three seasons.

Even with the absence of top blueliner Jérémy Lauzon, who suffered a gruesome neck injury in game 5 of the Armada series, the Huskies bring strong defensive players to the table. Head coach Gilles Bouchard will just roll a top pair of Brouillard and Philippe Myers, or continue to stagger them with veterans Allan Caron or Jacob Neveu.

Lauzon’s injury is the type that teams rally around, not stagger from. It rules him out for the series, but doctors didn’t rule out a return later in the playoffs.

This is the third series between these two teams in their history. The Huskies won the first series 4-games-to-2 in 2004-05, and the Wildcats won the return matchup in their 2010 President’s Cup championship run.

Why the Wildcats could win: The Wildcats have been consistently put to the test in the playoffs, while the Huskies haven’t faced stiff competition at all in the playoffs.

The Wildcats weren’t supposed to make it this far. They were a popular upset pick in the first round against the Victoriaville Tigres, who they beat in five games. They then had the toughest second round matchup of the four, taking on the Gatineau Olympiques, the five-seed but the third-best team in the league in terms of points. The Wildcats overcame them, winning the final two games of the series to win in six games.

The Wildcats were down 4-1 early in the third period of game 5 of the Gatineau series, before they scored five unanswered goals to end the game 6-2, including a hat-trick from Manuel Wiederer. Moncton carried the momentum into game 6 in Gatineau, and stormed out to a 7-2 victory going away, with Weiderer getting another hat-trick.

The German plays with a lot of poise and leads the team with 11 goals and 15 points. His 11 goals puts him at a three-way tie for the league lead with Povorozniouk and Cape Breton’s Michael Joly.

Conor Garland was held pointless in the first four games of the series, the first time all year he was held pointless in consecutive games, let alone four. He then potted four assists in the final two games and bounced back. The Wildcats as a whole bounced back in that series, as they put up 13 goals in the last two games of the series against the league’s stingiest defensive club in the regular season.

Jacob Sweeney missed all of the second series, and could be back early in the third series. He adds a veteran presence to the back end, but his absence allowed a couple of defencemen to step up into greater roles.

Zach Malatesta imposed himself physically and on the offensive end to a level above his regular season play, and Ryan Mooney made massive strides in his game between the two series, playing with a lot of confidence and swagger on both the offensive and defensive ends. He doesn’t have a point, but he’s been working hard and the points will come.

Based on pure talent, Keven Bouchard could be the most talented goaltender in the series, and the Wildcats will need him to continue his strong play into the third round for Moncton to pull off the upset.

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