Saint John Sea Dogs’ QMJHL playoff run: best in recent CHL history?

In hockey, dwelling on an accomplishment that comes before the big prize is like spiking the football before crossing the goal line. That seems like a good way to start off a post about the Saint John Sea Dogs, who won by a football score of 8-0 while clinching the President's Cup against the Rimouski Océanic on Thursday.

Twenty minutes was enough for Saint John to have a statement game in their clinching win, which was highlighted by a five-goal opening period and a 12-point night from the Zack Phillips-Stanislav Galiev-Tomas Jurco line. The second line, so-called, of Charlie Coyle between Danick Gauthier and Jonathan Huberdeau were sluggards by comparison, combining for only five. For rhetorical purposes, it was small proof the Sea Dogs are close to hitting on all eight cylinders one week out from the MasterCard Memorial Cup in Shawinigan.

Coach Gerard Gallant didn't even try to act like his team has a leak to plug, telling TVA Sports in an on-ice interview their biggest challenge all season has been "overconfidence." Granted, that's probably not what he'll tell his team, but you get the idea.

Throughout their run of the past two seasons, the Sea Dogs have tried to keep their focus on the Memorial Cup alone. The coaching tandem of Gallant and Mike Kelly didn't want any big fuss a season ago after the Sea Dogs tied a Quebec league regular-season record with 58 wins.

However, it is worth suggesting Saint John might be on the greatest run by any team which has had to win four best-of-7 series, which is a relatively recent phenomenon in a major junior. Here are a few reasons why the Sea Dogs might stand alone, since there's no way to match them up with the 2010 Windsor Spitfires.

The record — Saint John has gone 32-4 in playoffs across the past two seasons.

For what it is worth, the Taylor Hall-led Windsor Spitfires were 32-7 in the playoffs in 2009 and '10 while winning the OHL before going on to claim consecutive Memorial Cups. The last QMJHL team to repeat, the Gatineau Olympiques of 2003 and '04, were 28-7 in the playoffs. Coach Benoît Groulx's 'Piques had a first-round bye in 2004.

What about Don Hay's Kamloops Blazers when it won consecutive Memorial Cups? The Blazers were a great tournament team, but went 'only' 27-13 in the WHL playoffs in 1994 and '95. Granted, that push might have steeled them for the Cup.

It's a similar story with the Medicine Hat Tigers who won consecutive Cups in 1987 and '88. The Tigers were 24-12 in the WHL post-season during those two winning campaigns. For simplicity's sake, this post focused on teams which had to play four rounds.

Kings of the road — So much for home-ice advantage. Three of the four Sea Dogs losses these past two springs actually came in the friendly confines of Harbour Station. They finished 17-1 on the road, while the lone setback coming in overtime of the semifinal series against the Chicoutimi Sagueéneens. That's quite the accomplishment within the realm of the QMJHL, where a lot of the arenas are older buildings where the fans are closer to the ice, more animated than many Ontario crowds and the crowd noise is amplified by the architecture. It can be intimidating.

The goal differential — The 2007 Lewiston MAINEiacs also went on a 16-1 run through the Q. But the margins of victory hardly compare. Lewiston, which had a future NHL goalie in Jonathan Bernier, was involved in close games in all four series. Their final goal differential was +33 across 17 games.

Saint John's? Try +64, 103 goals for and 39 against. That works out to an average score of 6-2.

That compares favourably with other dominant playoff teams such as the 2003 Kelowna Rockets (16-3 playoff record, +48), '05 London Knights (16-2 record, +46) or '06 Vancouver Giants (16-2, +45).

Granted, that's only talking very recent history. It's not clear if it would be apples-to-apples to compare Saint John in today's era of often overcoached hockey to the devil-may-care run-and-gun days. You know the 1986 Hull Olympiques, who went 15-0 en route to the President's Cup, sweeping three best-of-9 series? They outscored opponents 125-32 in the playoffs, a margin of +93. You could look it up.

Sure, some would say it's best to hold off and wait until after the Memorial Cup to make any proclamations. But in some ways league playoffs are a truer reflection of greatness than a 10-day tournament. Former Mississauga coach Dave Cameron might have furrowed some brows last season when he said winning the OHL is more meaningful than the CHL's top prize, but he had a point. Winning the league is an eight-week endeavour. The Memorial Cup, as great an event as it is, has more of a crapshoot element.

Who knows what awaits Saint John over the next 17 days. Awesomely good teams can still lose at the tournament, which is a series of 'best of ones.' The swath they cut through the QMJHL might not be matched very soon.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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