QMJHL Final Preview: Armada, Titan both have something to prove

Drake Batherson is second in QMJHL playoff scoring with 27 points. (Photo by Antoine Meunier, courtesy the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada)

While it’s never an easy task to make it to a President Cup series, the passage through the semifinals was very different for this year’s two finalists.

The Acadie-Bathurst Titan blew past the Victoriaville Tigres in a four-game sweep, although the final two games were road wins decided by one goal. On the other side, the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada went through three overtimes and held off a hard-working Charlottetown Islanders team in Game 7.

A sweep gave the Titan a chance to rest and recover, with eight days off between series. The Armada, on the other hand, have two nights off before jumping right back into the final on Friday. Historically, a sweep in the semifinal has resulted in a President Cup win more times than not —- teams that swept the penultimate series are 15-11 in the President Cup final dating back to the inaugural QMJHL season in 1969-70. That doesn’t include the 1986 final when the Hull Olympiques had semifinal and Cup final five-game sweeps when the league did best-of-nine series. The Titan franchise, including the Laval days before the franchise relocated to New Brunswick in 1998, has had three semifinal sweeps in its history and went on to win the President Cup each time.

Sweep and President Cup is a combo the Armada won’t want to hear this time around. It’s the second year in a row the Montreal-area team has made it to the final and 12 months after the Saint John Sea Dogs pulled off a sweep to shutdown the Armada

Heading into the final, the Titan have history on their side while the Armada look to forget the past. The Titan are in the final for the first time since 2002, while the Armada are still looking for their first franchise Cup win.

Here’s how the two teams compare:

(1) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada vs (2) Acadie-Bathurst Titan

Regular-season series: Blainville-Boisbriand 2-0 with the Armada winning both games by one goal including an OT-win on Oct. 6.

Last playoff matchup: Last year, the Titan blew a 3-1 series lead in the second round and the Armada won Game 7 by a score of 7-1.

Draft-eligible players

Blainville-Boisbriand: Luke Henman (C), Joël Teasdale (LW), Thomas Ethier (LW)

Acadie-Bathurst Titan: Noah Dobson (D), Ivan Michal (D), Justin Ducharme (D)

Player to watch

Blainville-Boisbriand: Alexandre Alain, RW

Nobody outside of the Charlottetown Islanders organization expected the ninth-place team to find itself in a Game 7 of the semi-final against the top team in the QMJHL. With all the momentum in the series shifting towards the Islanders, it was Alain who almost single-handily ensured a major upset was avoided. The winger had a hat trick and two assists as the Armada won 6-1. In the middle of the series, Alain signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Montreal Canadiens after going undrafted and unsigned even though he went through three NHL training camps with the Anaheim Ducks, Tampa Bay Lightning and Canadiens. With 16 goals in 16 games and 28 points these playoffs, Alain is having a monster spring.

Acadie-Bathurst: Evan Fitzpatrick, G

A St. Louis Blues prospect, Fitzpatrick was named the CHL goalie of the week on Tuesday, the second time this post-season he’s picked up the national award. He’s now won 10 games in a row with his last loss coming in Game 4 of the opening round. His 1.99 GAA is tops in the QMJHL and his .931 save percentage is third-best among goalies who have played a full game in these playoffs. Yes, Fitzpatrick allowed three goals in four of the games against Victoriaville, but he faced 102 shots in those games from a dangerous offence that included Vitalii Abramov and Maxime Comtois. In his fourth season in the QMJHL, Fitzpatrick is turning into a dominant puck stopper and showing why the Titan targeted him during the trading period and why the Blues used a second-round pick on Fitzpatrick in 2016.

How they match up:

It’s no surprise to see the top two teams from the regular season square off in the final. Both lineups are full of veterans and strong from the net out.

Fitzpatrick’s numbers are only marginally better than Armada goalie Emile Samson. The Armada rookie has a GAA of 2.01 and save percentage of .921 and was also named CHL goalie of the week earlier in the playoffs. The only real blemish for Samson came against Moncton when he was pulled after allowing two first-period goals. Outside of that, he’s been lights out. Not bad for an undrafted free-agent invitee.

The Titan blue line is anchored by high-scoring 20-year-old Olivier Galipeau and top prospect Noah Dobson, a potential top-10 pick in the upcoming NHL draft. Galipeau led the regular season in defencemen scoring and the trend continues in the post-season as he has a league-best 15 points in 14 games.

Armada defenceman Pascal Corbeil provided his team with a big boost, returning to the lineup for the Charlottetown series after missing the first two rounds with an injury. He made his presence felt with seven assists and was held pointless in only Game 4. Corbeil led the team in d-man scoring in the regular season with 42 points in an injury-riddled campaign.

The biggest advantage for Blainville comes up front with the explosive trio of Alexandre Alain (MTL), Drake Batherson (OTT) and Alex Barré-Boulet (TB). The three players have a combined 37 goals and 78 points. In total, the Armada have 70 goals in 13 games compared to 55 goals in 14 games for the Titan. Late in the series against Charlottetown, Batherson played on the second and third lines while Czech rookie Jan Hladonik spent time on the top line with Alain and Barré-Boulet.

Acadie-Bathurst doesn’t boast the same high-end scoring talent as Blainville, but have a deep lineup that spreads out the offence. In the series against Victoriaville, defenceman Jeffrey Truchon-Viel came up big with five goals — three of them game-winners — and three assists. Antoine Morand (ANH) has 15 points, but has been scoring in bunches with four of his five goals coming in Game 3 of the semifinal. If the Titan can get consistent scoring from Morand and German Rubtsov (PHI), they’ll be tough to slow down. This is a Titan machine that still rolls even if some of the parts are inconsistent.

Both teams have found success on the penalty kill in different ways. The Titan have a 92.5 kill percentage, well ahead of the 84.1 per cent for the Armada. However, the Armada have six shorthanded goals, including two from Barré-Boulet.

Motivation won’t be hard to find for either team. The memory of the Armada getting swept in the President Cup final last season is still fresh for many of the returning players. On the other side, the Titan get a chance at a do-over after losing in seven games to the Armada in last year’s second round. It’s shaping up to be a memorable series with two teams trying to squash the demons of last year.

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