QMJHL Playoffs: Top teams, big names still fighting for President Cup

The Saint John Sea Dogs defeated the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in Game 7 of the President Cup quarterfinal.

The regular-season winners of the three divisions, along with the sixth-seeded Moncton Wildcats are off to the QMJHL semi-finals. The two matchups feature teams without much prior playoff history squaring off, and there’s not much to look at from the regular season either as the teams in each pairing only played each other twice.

The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and Moncton Wildcats have only met once in the post-season, in 2005 when the the Huskies swept the Wildcats in the second round. The Shawinigan Cataractes have never played the Saint Dog Sea Dogs in the playoffs, although the two did play each other twice in the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup. Shawinigan knocked out Saint John in the semi-finals before going on to win the franchise’s first national title.

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Here’s how the third round of the ‘Q’ looks:

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (1) vs. Moncton Wildcats (6)
The Huskies finished the regular season by rolling off 14 straight wins. The momentum has carried over to the playoffs where they have only lost once in nine games and allowed six goals in the process, leaving goalie Chase Marchand with a microscopic 0.41 GAA.

It’s looked easy, but the top dogs have faced adversity. The 5-1 series-clinching win over the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada was overshadowed by a scary injury to defenceman Jérémy Lauzon. The Boston Bruins prospect (2015, 52nd overall) was rushed to the hospital after a cut to the neck from a skate blade. After undergoing emergency surgery, he appeared at a press conference Monday wearing a neck brace. Lauzon reportedly had a muscle severed and it’ll be at least three weeks before he can move his neck again.

The injury is a huge blow for the Huskies who—despite a plethora of depth at all positions—will miss Lauzon, especially on the power play. Six of his eight playoff points came with the man advantage.

Speaking of the power play, the Huskies are tops in the playoffs at 43.1 percent, scoring 22 goals on 51 opportunities. They also have more shorthanded goals than goals given up on the penalty kill—four shorties versus three goals in 44 chances (93.2 PK percentage, best in the QMJHL playoffs).

Francis Perron; QMJHL; CHL; Rouyn-Noranda Huskies; Ottawa Senators; 2014 NHL Draft; QMJHL Playoffs; Sportsnet

Francis Perron led the Huskies with 107 points this season. (Getty Images)

League MVP Francis Perron will be back for Game 1 after a two game ban for kneeing Philippe Sanche, the Armada’s leading scorer. Sanche didn’t return to the series and effectively made a comeback impossible.

Rouyn-Noranda is first in so many categories this post-season and show no signs of slowing down in the semis, but Moncton will be its biggest challenge yet.

An upset you say?
The Gatineau Olympiques gave up the fewest goals in the regular season but that didn’t keep Moncton from scoring 13 times in the final two games of their second-round series. Both games featured hat tricks from German import Manuel Wiederer, the primary beneficiary of playing alongside Conor Garland. The 49th overall pick of the 2015 CHL Import Draft leads the Wildcats with 11 goals and 15 points.

Last season, he played 29 games with the Straubing Tigers in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, the top men’s league in Germany. He only managed two points and was loaned to ESV Kaufbeuren, a tier below the DEL. He’s on loan to the Wildcats this season and signed a one-year extension with Straubing in February.

Wiederer was passed over in the NHL draft last year, but the 19-year-old has a distant shot of being drafted this June. NHL Central Scouting’s midterm rankings had him 161st among North American Skaters but dropped out of the CSS’s final rankings. After a 64-point regular season and his playoff performance thus far, he’s making a case to at least get an invite to a pro camp in the summer, even if he’s once again passed on in the draft.

In goal, Edmonton Oilers prospect Keven Bouchard is finally getting a shot in the playoffs. He started the 2013-14 season as Val-d’Or’s No. 1, but eventually lost the job to Antoine Bibeau who led the team to a President Cup trophy.

Last season, it was a similar story with rookie Etienne Montpetit taking the reins from Bouchard. Acquired from Baie-Comeau over the trading period, Bouchard has brought stability to a Moncton crease that had a rotating cast of inexperienced tenders. Through 11 playoff games, Bouchard has a GAA of 2.54 and save percentage of .914, both career bests over his three-year junior career. Bouchard is running with this chance to perform.

Conor Garland; Moncton Wildcats; QMJHL; CHL; Phoenix Coyotes; 2015 NHL Draft; QMJHL Playoffs

Garland has 257 points over the past two seasons. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty)

Moncton showed character from all lines in Game 5 against Gatineau. With the series tied 2-2, the Wildcats scored five unanswered goals in the third period to overcome a 4-1 deficit. After knocking off an opponent as tough as the Olympiques, Moncton won’t be intimidated by the juggernaut Huskies. The core of the Wildcats is the same as the one that was swept by the Québec Remparts in the semi-final last season. The team will be plenty motivated to get a better result this time around.

Rouyn-Noranda in six.

Shawinigan Cataractes (2) vs. Saint John Sea Dogs (3)
It’s pretty clear anything short of hardware is failure for Shawinigan. The first clue was the team bringing in Dmytro Timashov and a host of other players during the holiday trading period. The second clue was a coaching change in February while in second place.

So far, so good.

After three games in the second round against Charlottetown, Shawinigan was down 2-1. That’s when Anthony Beauvillier took his game to the next level.

The New York Islanders first-rounder has been one of the most exciting players to watch in the regular season the past two years with consecutive 40-goal campaigns, but he’s had trouble translating that to post-season success. Last season in a first-round upset to the Halifax Mooseheads, Beauvillier was a point-per-game player but only scored twice. In the first round against Sherbrooke, he had a pair of goals in the five-game series win. The Charlottetown Islanders held him off the score sheet completely in the first two games of the quarterfinals.

He finally exploded in Game 3 with 11 shots on net, two goals and an assist. Shawinigan lost the game 4-3 but Beauvillier looked like the dynamic threat he always is in the regular season. The Cataractes flexed their offensive muscles and scored six goals in each of the the next three games, all wins. Beauvillier now enters the next round firing on all cylinders with four goals and five assists in the final four games of the second round.

Anthony Beauvillier; QMJHL blog; Shawinigan Cataractes; New York Islanders; QMJHL; CHL; 2015 NHL Draft

Beauvillier led the league with a .851 goals-per-game average. (Photo courtesy QMJHL)

Timashov also turned it up in the second half of the series, scoring five goals in the final four games. It’s the first time in his two seasons in the QMJHL he’s scored in four consecutive games. The streak brings his playoff total up to seven. To put that into context: he only scored four goals in 28 games with Shawinigan this season and last year in 22 playoff games with the Remparts, he had three goals.

Between the pipes, the Cataractes have the QMJHL’s most experienced playoff vet in Philippe Cadorrette. He now owns the record for most post-season appearances with 71, passing Zach Fucale’s mark of 69 set last year. Cadorrette is now second all time in wins with 46, passing Roberto Luongo (38) and has Fucale’s record of 49 in reach. Despite all that, Cadorette has yet to win a title, losing in the QMJHL final twice in 2013 and ’14.

With four nights off to rest up, the Shawinigan Cataractes will enter the semis rested and hungry.

An upset you say?
Only three points separated Shawinigan and Saint John in the standings, so a Sea Dogs win wouldn’t be a total shocker here. Still, Saint John will happily roll into Shawinigan as underdogs. The team is coming off a thrilling seven-game battle with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. After a cautious start to the game, Saint John owned Cape Breton in the second half en route to a 6-2 win.

If Saint John wants to win this series, defence will be key. Thomas Chabot is the most recent CHL player of the week. The 18th-overall pick of the 2015 NHL Draft by the Ottawa Senators, Chabot finished the series with 11 points, all assists.

With Saint John in a must-win Game 6, he assisted on all but one goal—a Sam Povorozniouk penalty shot marker—in a 5-4 win. Chabot has been the team’s MVP so far, averaging over a point per game while also playing solid defence.

Shutdown D-man Matt Murphy arrived in Saint John as a 20-year-old in December with oodles of post-season experience: a President Cup and Memorial Cup with Halifax, and a trip to the final four with the host Québec Remparts last season. He had a goal and a shot deflected in the net in the Game 7. More importantly, he kept the Eagles offensive weapons in check in the final game—including down the stretch when the Eagles threw a Hail Mary with six forwards on the ice on the power play in the final moments of the game.

Up front, former OHLer Povorozniouk leads the team with 11 goals and 18 points. He had three scores in the final two games of the series and continues to be the team’s most dangerous forward.

If the series goes past the four-game mark, Bokojdji Imama will be eligible to return. The tough power-forward was suspended seven games for a hit on Tobie Bisson. He’s the type of player you want on your team in the playoffs, one who can dish out hits but is also dangerous around the net.

If the Sea Dogs can bounce back from an intense series against Cape Breton and the defence continues to play at an elite level, they could come out on top.

Shawinigan in seven

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