Breaking Down Round One
So, it's prediction time. Another year, another postseason, and another post-season format, if you're the QMJHL. At least this year, the 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15 and so on is a simpler concept to grasp than West Telus 1 vs. West Telus 4, whatever that meant, with East Telus having to steal a team from the Atlantic. The downside? Most Cape Bretoners are crying.
(1) Saint John Sea Dogs vs. (16) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles:
You know them, you love them, or at least you certainly envy them. With top honours in the CHL for Lord knows how many consecutive weeks, seventeen points separating them from seed #2, ten games lost out of 68 all season long (7 of those ending in regulation), I feel like saying Saint John in 1. But honestly, unless the Eagles have something magical (or illegal) powering their post-season run, this should be a sweep for the Big Bad Sea Dogs.
Prediction: Sea Dogs in 4
(2) Montreal Juniors vs. (15) Halifax Mooseheads:
Montreal is stacked with talent. If it wasn't known already (well first of all, where have you been?) let it be known now. Whether it's the NHL-prospect talent of Trevor Parkes and Louis Leblanc or that of hometown heroes Jérémy Gouchie and David Rose, the franchise's third year in the big city seems to be the charm. However, between goal hemhorrages followed by 20-minute scoring binges and winning in true cardiac fashion, sometimes they are not the easiest team to trust. This may come haunt them in later rounds, but for the time being, the most they should let slip is one game.
Prediction: Juniors in 5
(3) Québec Remparts vs. (14) Val d'Or Foreurs:
The 48-16-1-3 Remparts are somehow the least penalized team in the league, which is a true testament to their grit-and-sandpaper resolve. In addition to being led by a steady core of veteran leadership, they are definitely a team that is capable of getting underneath the other's skin (and I am first in line to admit it). Val d'Or are on the other spectrum of things, discipline-wise, and their -55 goal differential is not a good sign when they're facing one of the top goaltenders in the league in Phoenix Coyotes' prospect Louis Domingue. Still, led by recently-signed Florida Panther Jonathan Hazen, they could be in line to pose a minor surprise.
Prediction: Remparts in 5
(4) Drummondville Voltigeurs vs. (13) Chicoutimi Saguenéens:
For the third season in a row, the Voltigeurs have succeeded in tallying 45 or more wins, establishing themselves a new league record. Many thought this was the year of the slowdown, but by bringing a winning streak of 9 games into March, shortly before the curtain closed on the regular season, this does not appear to be the case. The Carbonneau-led Chicoutimi club does have a weapon on its side in Christopher Gibson, however. The Finnish-born goaltender finished with the best save percentage in the league and might steal a game for his less-than-experienced teammates.
Prediction: Voltigeurs in 5
(5) Gatineau Olympiques vs. (12) Rimouski Océanic
Rimouski barely did itself a favour by moving up in the standings just before season's end. Gatineau carries a 9-game winning streak into the playoffs and has scoring leader Philip-Michaël Devos on their side, while the Océanic has been riddled with finding its own consistency all season long. At the same time, the refreshing air of the postseason could just be what they need to find ways to win when they need it the most.
Prediction: Olympiques in 6
(6) Acadie-Bathurst Titan vs. (11) Victoriaville Tigres
Two teams with a lot of playoff experience and firepower promises to be a red-light festival in this first round matchup. Yet the Titan was able to match the Tigres' speed and offense handily in the season series between the two clubs, outscoring them 10-3 and taking both games. They've also got the upper hand in momentum, having finished the season unbeaten in their last four regulation games whereas the flipside is true for Victoriaville, who lost their last three. But their core of playoff-experienced players should prove challenging for the Titan this series.
Prediction: Titan in 6
(7) Shawinigan Cataractes vs. (10) PEI Rocket
With a somewhat jagged end to their season compared to that of the Rocket that have gone 7-2-1-0 in their last ten, the 7th-place Cataractes have wound up with a lot to chew on for their first round. In addition to running into a hot goaltender in Evan Mosher, the experience PEI brings to this series is a good first test for playoff-hungry Shawinigan. They won the season series, and should pull this one out as well, but it certainly won't be a walk in the park.
Prediction: Cataractes in 6
(8 ) Lewiston MAINEiacs vs. (9) Moncton Wildcats
Finally, a series that can go the distance. On one hand you have Étienne Brodeur's 53 goals, on the other, a defensive cupboard filled with names like Brandon Gormley and Simon Jodoin. Not to say the Cats don't know the back of the net, though, what with the Saulnier twins and Marek Hrivik leading the way. The other storyline in this series is that of the famed Return of Kirill Kabanov, who had 28 points in 39 games and "had a strong finish to the season" in Lewiston, according to head coach Jean-François Houle. I nearly had to flip a coin for this one, but despite finishing one seed apart, this might be the only "upset" I see happening this first round--in that the defending champs might leave earlier than expected.
Prediction: MAINEiacs in 7