QMJHL Preview: Islanders-Armada set for semifinal rematch

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

For the fourth time in the past six seasons, the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada are playing in a QMJHL semi-final. Since the team moved from Montreal to the off-island suburb in 2011-12, it has been a perennial threat, but still hasn’t hoisted a President Cup.

This year is a repeat semifinal as the Armada once again battle the Charlottetown Islanders, an under-the-radar Cinderella team that has knocked off two higher-seeded teams already. The Islanders have never won the league title or even played in the final since joining the QMJHL in 1999.

The other semifinal is a rematch of the 2002 President Cup final when the Victoriaville Tigres beat the Acadie-Bathurst Titan in six games. That was the last time either team played in the final and it’s been 19 years since the Titan won the QMJHL. It’s been a while since either fan base has had realistic dreams of a championship this late in April.

Here’s a closer look at the semifinal matchups:

(1) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada vs. (9) Charlottetown Islanders

Regular-season series: Blainville-Boisbriand 2-0

Last playoff matchup: The Armada defeated the Islanders in the 2017 semifinal, 4-1

Draft-eligible players

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

Charlottetown: Saku Vesterinen (D)

Player to watch:

Blainville-Boisbriand: Joël Teasdale, LW

Earlier this week, Teasdale was ranked 159th by NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings of North American skaters. The two-way forward bounced back into the rankings for the first time this year after going undrafted when he was first eligible last season — though the Winnipeg Jets did invite him to rookie camp. While last round against Moncton wouldn’t have influenced his draft ranking, Teasdale’s goals in four straight games highlight his skill and the secondary scoring he adds behind the loaded Armada top line. With five goals in nine games, Teasdale has matched his total from a year ago when the Armada lost in the President Cup final.

Charlottetown: Matthew Welsh, G

The ninth-place Islanders wouldn’t still be in the playoffs if it weren’t for the exceptional goaltending from Welsh. Playing against his hometown Halifax Mooseheads, the 18-year-old faced 51 shots in Game 2 on the road, but still pulled off the win. Last year, Welsh was in a backup role for Charlottetown although he did have one forgettable start in the semifinal against the Armada. He’ll need to be lights out and continue to emit confidence from the crease if Charlottetown is to pull off another upset.

How they match up:

In this rematch, Charlottetown is missing heavy offensive weapons such as Daniel Sprong and Filip Chlapik from last year’s team, while the Armada have an even more potent roster than they did in 2017 when they knocked off the Islanders in five games. Blainville’s top line of Drake Batherson (OTT), Alexandre Alain and Alex Barré-Boulet has now combined for 48 points in just nine games with Batherson leading the ‘Q’ with 18.

Charlottetown was able to hold Filip Zadina to three points and shut down the Halifax attack by limiting room in the neutral zone and will need to do the same this round. While the Islanders don’t have many flashy names, they’re a hard-working group getting key contributions from veterans like Pascal Aquin, Daniel Hardie and Keith Getson.

(2) Acadie-Bathurst Titan vs. (6) Victoriaville Tigres

Regular-season series: Acadie-Bathurst 2-0

Last playoff matchup: A first-round upset sweep in 2011 by 11th-place Victoriaville

Draft-eligible players

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

Victoriaville: N/A

Player to watch
Acadie-Bathurst: Mitchell Balmas, LW

The Titan gave up two first-round draft picks to bring in Balmas from the Gatineau Olympiques over the trading period. After a sub-par two-point performance in the first round, the veteran winger had five goals and two assists in the sweep of Sherbrooke. Now, he’ll go head-to-head with Vitalii Abramov (CBJ), his former linemate with Gatineau.

Victoriaville: Maxime Comtois, LW

The 50th overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft by the Anaheim Ducks, Comtois hasn’t scored since Game 2 against Gatineau in the first round. While he did collect three assists in the second round, the most notable incident involving him was a boarding call that led to a one-game suspension. After scoring 44 goals in 54 regular season games, getting just three in nine playoff games is disappointing. The high-end skill is there and Victoriaville needs it more than ever against a veteran Titan team.

How they match up:

There’s a chance this is the most entertaining series of the entire playoffs. Both teams came into the post-season red-hot and that’s continued as they have only lost two playoff games each. Titan goalie Evan Fitzpatrick (STL) leads the playoffs with a 1.79 GAA and was named the QMJHL player of the week on Monday. Not far behind is Etienne Montpetit, who is second with a 1.91 GAA and was runner up for the player of the week.

Then there’s the matchup of former Gatineau linemates, with Balmas for the Titan and Abarmov for the Tigres. Abramov leads the Tigres with seven goals and 13 assists and is his team’s most dangerous weapon.

The Titan will look to get its power play going after finishing second in the regular season with a 25.5 conversion percentage. So far in the playoffs, though, the unit is struggling going 4-for-41 or 9.8 per cent. With an offensive blueliner like Olivier Galipeau, the top-scoring defenceman in the regular season, it’s surprising to see the power play not being much of an advantage to this point.

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