The Halifax Mooseheads just seem to keep picking up steam.
The juggernaut from the Nova Scotia capital have been perfect thus far in the QMJHL playoffs, defeating the Saint John Sea Dogs and the Gatineau Olympiques with ease, both in sweeps of 4-0.
They hold all the cards coming into their third round matchup against the upstart Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, who upset the Quebec Remparts 4-1 in the second round. It was the only upset of the second round, after several in the first. The Huskies have only lost two games in the playoffs so far, and boast the league’s playoff scoring leader and the league’s best offence in the playoffs, barely.
The Mooseheads haven’t lost since March 6, and haven’t lost in regulation since Feb. 8.
The other series pits a classic offence vs. defence matchup between the Baie-Comeau Drakkar and Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. Baie-Comeau hasn’t lost a game in the playoffs either but face its stiffest test yet in the Armada. The Armada have only lost one game so far, and are riding a six-game winning streak of their own.
Every team had at least a week to recover and recuperate heading into the third round, on account of their quick work in their respective second round series.
Blainville-Boisbriand open their series in Baie-Comeau on Friday night, and Rouyn-Noranda visits Halifax Saturday.
(8) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (40-24-1-3, .618 point pct) vs. (1) Halifax Mooseheads (58-6-3-1, .882). Odds favour: Halifax 87 per cent. Most statistically likely outcome: Halifax in 5. Prediction: Halifax in 5.
The Mooseheads won each game against Gatineau Olympiques by at least two goals, including 7-0 and 5-0 in games 1 and 2. Overager Stefan Fournier leads the pack with 19 points, followed by the usual suspects: Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, each with 15 points, and Martin Frk with 14.
Fournier had eight goals in four games vs. Gatineau. MacKinnon and Frk were held scoreless against Gatineau, but the former had eight assists and the latter had four.
Rouyn-Noranda used key performances from league scoring leader Sven Andrighetto (22 points) and his linemates Jean-Sebastian Dea (16 points) and Nikita Kucherov (18 points) to do massive damage and upset the Quebec Remparts in five games.
Andrighetto, who has at least a point in every playoff game this spring, had 10 points in the Remparts series, while Dea and Kucherov each had nine. Kucherov, a former Rempart, had six points in the fifth and deciding game.
Rouyn-Noranda has, by the slightest of margins, outscored the Mooseheads in the playoffs so far, 47-to-46, though the Huskies have played 10 games to the Mooseheads’ eight. However, the boys from the Abitibi have surrendered 30 goals to Halifax’s 9, and that’s why their ride will stop here. Rookie netminder Alexandre Belanger has performed admirably in these playoffs, but his numbers (8-2, 2.91 GAA, .889 save pct.) pale next to those of the Mooseheads’ Zach Fucale (8-0, 1.13, .938).
The only question will be if the Huskies’ big line will be able to get away from the Mooseheads’ checking units to do enough damage to steal a game.
(3) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (41-19-2-6, .662) vs. (2) Baie-Comeau Drakkar (44-19-2-3, .684). Odds favour: Baie-Comeau 52%. Most statistically likely outcome: Baie-Comeau in 7. Prediction: Baie-Comeau in 7.
Here’s the toughie.
The Drakkar have yet to lose in the playoffs. New Philadelphia Flyer Petr Straka and his 18 points lead the Baie-Comeau offence, with Jérémy Grégoire, Raphaël Bussières and Carl Gélinas, each with 13 points, making their mark as well.
The Armada lost once to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, and then plowed through the Val-d’Or Foreurs in the second round, including a 10-1 drubbing in the series opener. They are led by the line of Christopher Clpperton, Marc-Olivier Roy and Tommy Giroux.
Both teams come in with sizzling power plays, with Blainville-Boisbriand operating at a 30.2% clip, and the Drakkar at 29.8%. Both teams' penalty killing is in the 86% range.
The two teams match up incredibly evenly, and style-wise they play a bit of a different game. The Armada, with coach J-F Houle, like to sit back and jump on their opportunities, while the Drakkar, led by last year’s Memorial Cup champion Éric Veilleux, like to attack and pound the shots away, while also playing responsibly in their own end. The Drakkar have not been outshot so far this playoffs. Baie-Comeau has outscored the Armada and also defended better.
In this kind of series, one has to look for the goaltending matchup to make the difference. The Armada’s Étienne Marcoux has greater name recognition around the league, but it’s Baie-Comeau’s Philippe Cadorette who’s been stealing the show when he needs to. Cadorette’s save percentage of .930 is second best in the playoffs, behind Halifax’s Fucale, while Marcoux chimes in at a .916 mark. Cadorette's GAA of 1.63 beats Marcoux’s 2.09 as well. In saying that, Marcoux had heavy consideration for an invitation to Canada's final selection camp for the world junior championship, so he is well capable of stealing games.
Strangely, the second-most probable odd for this series was Blainville-Boisbriand taking the series in six games, by a percentage chance of 18% to 17%. Sometimes, even the numbers aren’t sure.