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Val-d’Or Foreurs, backed by Antoine Bibeau, oust Halifax from QMJHL playoffs; Drakkar outlast Armada

Neate Sager
Buzzing The Net

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Leafs pick Antoine Bibeau came up big in Game 7 on Tuesday (Ghyslain Bergeron, CP)

Toronto Maple Leafs-drafted goalie Antoine Bibeau, who spent a week in the visitors' net on many a night when he played in the Halifax Mooseheads' division, helped deliver a cold dish of comeuppance to the now ex-champs.

For the first time since 2009, the President's Cup winner will hail from the province mentioned in the name of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, while the CHL is guaranteed a new Memorial Cup champion after the Val-d'Or Foreurs held off Halifax 3-2 in Game 7 of the semifinal on Tuesday. In front of a Metro Centre sellout of 10,595, Val-d'Or got the payoff it sought at Christmastime when it coughed up a first-round choice to the Charlottetown Islanders for Bibeau. The veteran goalie, who spent parts of three seasons on the East Coast with the P.E.I./Charlottetown franchise, made 39 saves to deny superstar Jonathan Drouin and cohorts a return trip to the final.

"I'm proud of our team — I don't think, at the beginning of the season, anyone was talking about our team going to the final because we're still a young team," said Foreurs coach Mario Durocher, whose team won 3-of-4 games at the Metro Centre during the series with the lone loss coming in overtime. "We showed a lot of character. The depth of our team made the difference. Our fourth line scored the winning goal tonight. Defensively, all the guys made the commitment before the playoffs. Again, Bibeau was outstanding tonight but defensively we were great."

The win guarantees an all-Quebec final, with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar having the home-ice edge over the Foreurs. Philippe Cadorette's 24 saves and two special-team goals, including a power-play salvo from Montreal Canadiens prospect Charles Hudon, lifted Baie-Comeau to a 2-1 win over Blainville-Boisbriand in the night's other Game 7. Hudon's goal was his first in five games.

Normally, whoever wins Game 5 of a best-of-7 series prevails. Both Baie-Comeau and Val-d'Or reversed the trend, winning out after falling behind 3-2. For their part, the Drakkar were pushed to the limit by the Armada. Baie-Comeau, as the top seed often does, had an easy ride through the first two rounds before being extended by Blainville-Boisbriand.

"I have rarely seen such a hard-working team," Drakkar coach Éric Veilleux said of the vanquished Armada. "They are tireless. We must learn from it."

The Foreurs' win might have predicated on faster starts and steadier goaltending than Halifax over the run of seven games. On Tuesday, it also had to sweat out a late penalty kill vs. Drouin and Co. after defenceman Jérémie Fraser was whistled for delay of game for shooting the puck into the crowd with 3:23 left. Halifax's Andrew Ryan hit the post on the power play, but Val-d'Or hung on.

Halifax, which stayed near the top of the league after seeing off 18-year-old Colorado Avalanche phenom Nathan MacKinnon and host of stars from its 2013 Memorial Cup championship team, had little to hang its head over after outshooting Val-d'Or 41-16. Two seventh games each decided by a goal, and one by the margin of a pinged post, sums up how tight the QMJHL has been all season.

"We got 41, 42 shots, with a lot of scoring chances," said Mooseheads coach Dominique Ducharme. "If we played again tomorrow, I wouldn't change a thing.

"I thought Bibeau did a great job holding on to the lead," Ducharme added. "We had our chances."

'Next step' for determined Foreurs

Val-d'Or, which forged ahead on second-period goals by Pierre-Maxime Poudrier and Maxime Presseault, has been on an impressive second-half surge. There was speculation in the fall that star Detroit Red Wings first-round pick Anthony Mantha might be traded to a contender. Instead, GM Alexandre Rouleau loaded up by dealing three picks, including a first, for Bibeau. Rouleau swung another trade with Charlottetown for 18-year-old New York Rangers-drafted defender Ryan Graves.

"Before Tony Mantha went to the world junior, we made the decision [to load up]," Durocher said. "The way we playing, the way our young kids were playing, we showed him that we had a chance to go a little further. I think it was smart ... We paid a lot but all the moves that Alex made have fallen into place.

"Last year, we won the first round for the first time in four or five years. This year, we talked about taking the next step."

Drouin, who's an excellent bet to move up to the Tampa Bay Lightning as a 19-year-old next season, finished with 41 points in 16 playoff games. The 18-year-old scored or assisted on 55.4 per cent of Halifax's goals during the post-season.

With Nikolaj Ehlers (11 goals, 28 points) and Philippe Gadoury (12 goals, 23 points) also having prolific post-seasons, Halifax was hardly spartan offensively. It was just bound to suffer in comparisons to the 2013 team that boasted Drouin working wonders in tandem with MacKinnon, who will play in a Game 7 on Wednesday when Colorado faces the Minnesota Wild in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Mooseheads' undoing was a tendency toward slow starts, along with being younger on defence than it was during its championship season. When Val-d'Or overage defenceman Guillaume Gélinas scored on the game's first shot, it marked the sixth time in seven games that the Foreurs held a first-period lead. Gélinas had a strong case as one of the series' MVPs after notching a dozen points in seven games.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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