And now the real action begins.
The QMJHL's first round, other than one upset, was like watching the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals. Many games were not close, and many series were not close. Only the Armada, who beat the Wildcats in six games, couldn’t finish off their opponent in five or less.
This round will be much closer, and a much higher level of hockey. The second round also brings our first predicted upset of the QMJHL playoffs, even if the odds disagree.
(1) Baie-Comeau Drakkar (47-16-2-3, 99 pts.) vs. (10) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (35-28-3-2, 75 pts.)
Season series: Baie-Comeau (3-0) Odds favour: Baie-Comeau – 71% Most mathematically likely outcome: Baie-Comeau in 6 Prediction: Baie-Comeau in 5
Why the Drakkar should win: The top seed will need to take advantage of a PK that was ravaged by a tough Quebec offence. The Remparts scored 10 power-play goals in 18 opportunities, including 5-of-6 in Game 2. The Huskies still won, easily, but their penalty kill did not do them any favours. Charles Hudon had three power-play markers himself in the Drakkar series win, so Rouyn-Noranda will have to watch out for him.
Here’s where the Drakkar depth takes care of this upstart Huskies team. Two depth players, Alec Jon Banville and Robbie Graham, each had a point-a-game in the first round. Once players like Valentin Zykov, Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau and Frédéric Gamelin get going, Baie-Comeau will be very strong.
The Drakkar only gave up four goals in their easy four-game sweep of Shawinigan in the first round. Philippe Cadorette was great when he had to be, stopping 106-of-110 shots in the first round. The Drakkar took 203 shots in those four games.
They won’t dominate the Huskies like they dominated the Cataractes, but they will be thirsty for their first real test of the post-season.
How the Huskies could win: Well, the law of averages says the PK will be better, and they went nearly 78% down a man in the regular season. The Drakkar were at a 24.6% clip in the regular season on the man advantage, so they will need to be kept in check.
The Huskies need their scorers, Jean-Sébastien Dea, Francis Beauvillier and Marcus Power, and the unlikely sources of offence like Ryan Penny, Canadiens signing Jack Nevins and Francis Perron to keep clicking together. Rouyn-Noranda had scoring from all lines last series, and they need that to continue.
Rouyn-Noranda was challenged in their first round series, and they dispatched the Remparts in five games. They are already accustomed to playing a tough opponent, while Baie-Comeau walked over Shawinigan without noticing. The Huskies can use that to their advantage. They’ve already faced some adversity, while Baie-Comeau is just settling into the playoff action.
(2) Halifax Mooseheads (47-18-0-3, 97 pts.) vs. (8) Gatineau Olympiques (41-23-1-3, 86 pts.)
Season series: Even (1-1) Odds favour: Halifax – 55% Most mathematically likely outcome: Halifax in 6 Prediction: Halifax in 7
Why the Mooseheads should win:
Here’s where the money players shine: the playoffs. The Mooseheads have the two best players in the series: Jonathan Drouin up front, and Zach Fucale in goal. If the best players are the best players, Halifax will win. Fucale matches up well against Gatineau goalie Robert Steeves.
However, they need a little help from their friends, and they got it. Potential first-rounder Nikolaj Ehlers had 10 points in the four game sweep of the Charlottetown Islanders. Philippe Cadoury continued his incredible shooting with five goals in the four games. Mac Weegar had two-points-a-game on the back-end. They will need that to continue against a much tougher opponent.
One thing that will help the Mooseheads in particular is that the Islanders and the Olympiques are both tough, physical teams. Halifax has already had to fend off a physical team in the first round, and they will get another one this time, too.
How the Olympiques could win: The Olympiques’ top line of Martin Reway, Simon Tardif-Richard and Vaclav Karabacek each had over two-points-a-game, and were a combined +42 in the four-game sweep of Cape Breton.
The Olympiques need to play big and take advantage of home ice. Their muckers like Vincent Dunn, Alexis Pépin, Taylor Burke, Adam Stevens and Deverick Ottereyes need to win the series for Gatineau. They need to win in the trenches to shut down the powerful Halifax offence.
They also need Steeves to outplay Fucale to win the series. They need timely goals and timely goaltending. There is no doubt that coach Benoît Groulx will prepare the team well, it’s just a question of the players being able to handle their responsibilities.
(3) Val-d’Or Foreurs (46-20-1-1, 94 pts.) vs. (6) Drummondville Voltigeurs (43-21-1-3, 90 pts.)
Season series: Val-d’Or (3-2-1) Odds favour: Val-d’Or – 67% Most mathematically likely outcome: Val-d’Or in 5 Prediction: Drummondville in 7
Why the Foreurs should win: League MVP Anthony Mantha didn’t score a ton in Val-d’Or’s first round win over Acadie-Bathurst, but he didn’t have to as the Foreurs toppled the Titan in four. He will be better in this second round series.
The Foreurs have other offensive options as well, in Samuel Henley, Louick Marcotte and Pierre-Maxime Poudrier, as well as Randy Gazzola and Guillaume Gélinas on the blueline. No junior team in the league can boast what the Foreurs have: a bona-fide top two pairing with major offensive talent. They can have all five players run all-out attack with ease throughout a game unlike any other QMJHL team.
Val-d’Or dramatically outshot their opponents in the first round, a 157-74, including a 55-19 run in the first period. The Foreurs gave up only one goal in the first frame, and none in the second one. They start games fast and quick, and hope the other team can’t catch up.
How the Voltigeurs could win: Keep in mind that Mantha is a sniper, and snipers are hot and cold. If Mantha is on a cold streak, the best goal scorer in the QMJHL is a non-factor. Drummondville can score too, as the five-game win over Victoriaville proved. They had seven players at a point-a-game or above.
The additions of Frédérick Gaudreau, Alexandre Grand-Maison and Ryan Culkin during the mid-season trading period added battle-tested players into the Drummondville lineup, and it’s deeper in the playoffs that those acquisitions pay off.
Drummondville could easily have the better goaltender in Louis-Philip Guindon this series. If he can get hot, look out. He is capable of outplaying Antoine Bibeau, who has only had half-a-season in front of his Foreur teammates.
Val-d’Or didn’t have a tough test in their first round matchup, while Drummondville was playing a rival. The intensity the Volts faced in the first round can only serve them well here.
(4) Rimouski Océanic (45-16-3-4, 97 pts.) vs. (5) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (41-17-5-5, 92 pts.)
Season series: Even (2-2) Odds favour: Rimouski – 58% Most mathematically likely outcome: Rimouski in 6 Prediction: Rimouski in 6
Why the Océanic should win: The Oceanic should pounce on a weakened Armada offence. Blainville-Boisbriand will be missing forward Danick Martel, maybe their best in the first round win over Moncton, for an indefinite period of time due to injury, and forward Ryan Tesink due to suspension for the first four games of the series. That is a big chunk of the Armada offence that, though missing a definite game-breaker, looked dominant at times against the Wildcats.
However, the Oceanic have a game-breaker in Anthony DeLuca who has the potential to take over the series with timely goals. If DeLuca can get hot, and his six assists in the first round are an indication, the Oceanic will have an ace in the hole the Armada can’t match, especially missing Tesink and Martel. The Wildcats had two players, Ivan Barbashev and Vladimir Tkachev, net over a point-a-game with that game-changing quality. DeLuca can do the same for the Oceanic.
The Oceanic have a ton of weapons up front that the Armada will have to contain, not just DeLuca, but also Michael Joly, Sébastien Sylvestre, Alexis Loiseau and Frédérik Gauthier, as well as Samuel Morin leading the way from the back end.
How the Armada could win: They will need their puck possession game to continue through against a much tougher opponent in Rimouski. If the Armada can control the play like they did at times against the Wildcats, they will be able to dictate the way the chips will fall. If the Armada can be in a favourable position come Game 4 when Tesink comes back, it will be a huge boost.
The Armada need to keep playing a team game, especially down Tesink, who had seven points in five games, and Martel, who had six in five. The load shifts to Frédéric Bergeron, Nikita Jevpalovs and Philippe Sanche, who each had a point-a-game or more. The offence from the blue-line could be an edge as well, as Walcott, Talbot-Tassi and Picard each brought offence in a different fashion.
It will also be a goaltending battle between Rimouski netminder Philippe Desrosiers and Blainville-Boisbriand goaltender Etienne Marcoux. The team with the best goalie will win the series.