April 21, 2011
The recurring theme of the decline in Quebec goalies will be revisited in one semifinal series.
The goaltending counterparts in one semifinal, the Quebec Remparts' Louis Domingue and Gatineau Olympiques' Maxime Clermont, were once touted as capable of reversing the league's decline as a goalie factory. Both slipped in the NHL draft, respectively being taken in the fifth round to the Phoenix Coyotes and sixth by the New Jersey Devils. The 6-foot-3 Domingue (pictured, right), who could be not unfairly called the Q's answer to José Théodore with the way he can run hot and cold — just to fill out the analogy, he's also left-handed, has been painted as the weaker link on the offensively stacked Remparts.
Clermont, for a time, fell out of favour with 'Piques coach Benoît Groulx and lost playing time to backup François Lacerte, but helped nail down a six-game second-run ousting of the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Now either could do wonders for his reputation by guiding his team to the Presidents' Cup championship series.
Meantime, the Saint John Sea Dogs, for whom only a championship will do after last season's loss in the final, face a scary underdog in their one-time division rival, the Lewiston Maineiacs. It is a scary opponent for Saint John, since the Maineiacs are in an exclusive club of teams which handed the Sea Dogs a regulation-time loss during the regular season.
Here's a look at the semifinal series, which open Friday:
(5) Gatineau Olympiques (43-18-3-5 reg. season, def. Rimouski 4-1 and Drummondville 4-2) vs. (3) Quebec Remparts (48-16-1-3, def. Val-d'Or 4-0, def. Shawinigan 4-3)
Season series: Quebec 3-1-0-0, with a 17-12 goal differential.
Why Gatineau should win: The 'Piques, in the first season of their Benoît Groulx reboot, have coalesced into a team which is built for the playoffs, showing shades of the Gatineau teams which won three league titles during the aughties before the coach did his shuffle off to the Buffalo Sabres affiliate.
In a sense, their season probably started Feb. 25 when captain and key defenceman Hubert Labrie returned from a knee injury. They outplayed Saint John that night but lost a one-goal game. Los Angeles Kings prospect Nicolas Deslauriers also helms a defensive group which minimizes the pressure on Clermont, who's responded with a 2.27 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. Up front, the 'Piques have one key injury with power winger Tye McGinn sidelined, but they are hardly Spartan scoring-wise with QMJHL points leader Philip-Michaël Devos and 18-year-old centre Jean-Gabriel Pageau (top photo, far left), whose 19 points in 11 games place him third in post-season scoring. Ultimately, if Gatineau has indeed gained its reputation for being a peak performer when it matters, it can win this. It will be a tough out at the very least.
Why Quebec could win: They score goals getting off the bus, pure and simple and their top-ranked power play is converting at a torrid — if perhaps unsustainable — 43.1 per cent in the playoffs. Roy has so many sharp arrows — six players hit the 20-goal mark, seven reached 50 points — that he should have a quiver on his back. They're talented, with the likes of playoff scoring leader Jonathan Audy-Marchessault (28 points), overage Joel Champagne (top photo, second left) and two-time world junior forward Ryan Bourque. They also have a defence, led by captain Mikaël Tam and overage Alex Wall, who won a championship with Moncton last season, which seems able to push forward. How they handle Gatineau's pressure, especially in the bandbox Centre Robert-Guertin in games 3, 4 and (presumably) 6, will be a major test.
When Domingue (2.36 playoff GAA, .918 save percentage) is on, Quebec is awful tough to defeat. It is ancient history now, but Roy surely remembers the result (five-game loss in 2008) the last time his team went up against Groulx's in the playoffs.
Odds favour: Gatineau 57%
(8) Lewiston Maineiacs (def. Moncton 4-1 and Montreal 4-2) vs. (1) Saint John Sea Dogs (58-7-1-2, def. Cape Breton 4-0 and Victoriaville 4-1)
Season series: Split 1-1, with an 8-7 goal diffential for Saint John.
Why Saint John should win: Lest we succumb to paralysis by analysis, they are the better team and boast the best player in top NHL draft prospect Jonathan Huberdeau, who has 10 goals in nine playoff games. They meet that standard of having talent with playoff experience, a nice combination. This is Saint John's series to lose. They have the Huberdeau-Stanislav Galiev-Zack Phillips monster line leading the way up front and a defence corps led by two high-drafted 19-year-olds, Pittsburgh Penguins first-rounder Simon Després and New Jersey Devils second-rounder Eric Gélinas. Unless coach Gerard Gallant's team gets a whack of injuries or a breakdown in discipline, they can win the series on form.
Why Lewiston should win: This would have been a scary matchup for the Sea Dogs in Round 2 or 3. Lewiston can lure teams into run-and-gun hockey and has hard-to-account-for offensive players such as Kirill Kabanov (second right in photo), 53-goal scorer Etienne Broduer and defenceman Olivier Dame-Malka. Goaltender Nicolas Champion is also having a good playoff run.
The Maineiacs also showed in their first round that coach J.F. Houle has them well-drilled on special teams, which is doubly important since they are the league's most penalized team. Saint John has also had penalty problems in the playoffs. It's a small factor, but it helped them defeat second-seeded Montreal, as Louis Leblanc would attest:
"The main factor was the power play," said Leblanc, the Canadiens' first-round pick (18th overall) at the 2009 NHL entry draft. "Theirs was awesome and they were able to score a lot of goals. Ours didn't. If you score on the power play, you're confident and things go well and you're able to produce chances five-on-five. That didn't happen for us." (Montreal Gazette)
Lewiston can pounce f Saint John has let any bad habits develop while winning 66 of 81 games, bottom line.
Prediction: Sea Dogs in 6.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photos: Getty Images, The Canadian Press).