On Tuesday night, the QMJHL had three Game 7s to close out the first round. In a league where anything can happen, the Moncton Wildcats (14), Sherbrooke Phoenix (10) and Charlottetown Islanders (9) all pulled off upsets.
Moncton’s decisive 6-3 Game 7 win marks the second straight year where the third-best division leader has been sent packing. Last year, it was the Val-d’Or Foreurs knocking off the Shawinigan Cataractes.
All three Game 7 winners face uphill battles, but could be entertaining Cinderalla teams to follow. The Moncton Wildcats finished last in the league the season before, we’re talking 26 points behind the second-worst team, but have a young squad that will only get better.
The second-worst team last year was the Sherbrooke Phoenix, a team that came into the league in 2012-13 but hadn’t won more than two playoff games in one year, let alone a series. While the new car smell wore off a while ago, the franchise is enjoying its best season.
And finally the Charlottetown Islanders loaded up for a run at the league title last season but ultimately fell short in the semi-final. Written off by many after losing its top players, the team has thrived as underdogs this year.
Here’s a look at the four quarterfinal matchups:
(1) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada vs. (14) Moncton Wildcats
Regular-season series: Blainville-Boisbriand 2-0
Last playoff matchup: 2014, Blainville beat Moncton 4-2 in the first round.
Blainville-Boisbriand: Luke Henman (C), Thomas Ethier (LW)
Moncton: Anderson MacDonald (LW), Jeremy McKenna (RW)
Players to watch
Blainville-Boisbriand: Alexandre Alain, RW: The top-line forward led the Armada to a first round sweep with five goals including a goal 10 seconds into Game 2, which tied for fourth-fastest in QMJHL playoff history. It’s another step forward for the overage forward who had six goals in 20 games last year when the Armada made a trip to the President Cup final. The undrafted player has attended NHL training camps the past three falls, including the Montreal Canadiens’ in 2017, and is making a solid case for another chance from a professional team.
Moncton: Mark Grametbauer, G: After Moncton upset the third-place Rimouski Océanic in Game 7, Wildcats head coach Darren Rumble tweeted out “Krmaa” followed by “Kamra” followed by “Friggin spell check…what I meant to say was KARMA”. We’ve all been there, excitedly tweeting and falling victim to autocorrect. Rumble was referencing comments made by Océanic GM and head coach Serge Beausoleil, who publicly questioned the quality of goalie Mark Grametbauer and said he wouldn’t be back on a Moncton team looking to host the 2019 Memorial Cup.
While Beausoleil later apologized — and was fined $2,500 by the league — the bulletin board material was out in the open and Grametbauer responded with a 40-save Game 6 to force Game 7. If Moncton wants to entertain another upset, they’ll need Grametbauer to steal more games. His 2.59 GAA and .911 save percentage in the playoffs are notable improvements over his regular season 3.65 GAA and .884 save percentage.
How they match up: The Wildcats face a daunting challenge going against a well-rested Armada team that finished first in the regular season. As expected, the Armada quickly dismantled the Val-d’Or Foreurs with the only real scare coming when the underdogs forced overtime in Game 1. The Wildcats will have their hands full with Alain, Drake Batherson (OTT) and regular season scoring leader Alex Barré-Boulet (TB) up front.
Moncton deserves credit for going from bottom of the league a season ago to knocking off a division winner. The team got scoring from unlikely sources including four goals from Brady Pataki, a 19-year-old who spent the previous three seasons in the OHL and had eight goals in 47 regular season games. Even if the Wildcats can’t get past a veteran Armada lineup, the experience should help accelerate the rebuild.
(2) Acadie-Bathurst Titan vs. (10) Sherbrooke Phoenix
Regular-season series: Tied 1-1
Last playoff matchup: N/A
Acadie-Bathurst: Noah Dobson (D), Ivan Michal (D), Justin Ducharme (D)
Players to watch
Acadie-Bathurst: German Rubstov, C: For a first-round NHL pick, the big Russian has disappointed. Selected 22nd by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2016, Rubstov only had an assist in the six-game series against Chicoutimi. It extends his goalless streak to nine games but that’ll be forgotten if he can turn it on against the Phoenix.
Sherbrooke: Yaroslav Alexeyev, RW: After missing the first two games of the series with a fractured thumb, Alexeyev returned and posted three goals and two assists in the upset of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. It’s hard to know how much pain he’s playing through, but the return of the Russian along with defenceman Luke Green gave the Phoenix a big boost.
How they match up: Every year President Cup contenders load up on veterans and NHL prospects. The Titan brought in Evan Fitzpatrick to be its starting goalie and he now faces his former team and Reilly Pickard, the 19-year-old goalie they traded away. While the two teams only met twice in the regular season, playing against each others’ former starting goalie shrinks the gap.
Even though the Phoenix finished 10th, the team was red-hot down the stretch and were prime upset candidates with a low PDO. The win against Rouyn-Noranda was the first playoff-round win in franchise history and they’ll look to build on the milestone.
The Titan present a bigger challenge, outmatching the Phoenix with more firepower up front and two pillars on defence with top NHL prospect Noah Dobson and top-scoring defenceman Olivier Galipeau.
Acadie-Bathurst finished the regular season with the second-best power play at 25.4 per cent, but struggled in the first round against Chicoutimi, going 0-for-13 on the road and 3-for-27 (11.1%) overall. Its penalty kill was perfect while the Phoenix only killed off 66.7 per cent of penalties against.
Also not the best sign, the Phoenix are the only team in the second round that finished with a negative goal differential in the opening round after scoring 16, but allowing 20 against the Huskies.
(4) Halifax Mooseheads vs. (9) Charlottetown Islanders
Regular-season series: Halifax 7-1-1
Last playoff matchup: An opening round sweep by Halifax in 2014
Halifax: Filip Zadina (RW), Jared McIsaac (D), Benoit-Olivier Groulx (C), Alexis Gravel (G)
Charlottetown Islanders: Saku Vesterinen (D)
Players to watch
Halifax: Raphaël Lavoie, C: An injury to Otto Somppi (TB) in Game 1 created a void, but Lavoie stepped in and anchored the top line. A top prospect for the 2019 NHL Draft, the 6-foot-4, 192-pound centre had four points in five games. He’s been clutch for Halifax since the New Year, scoring 19 goals, including six in overtime.
Charlottetown: Pierre-Olivier Joseph (ARI), D: The captain has his team thriving in the underdog role a season after the team went all in on a President Cup run a year ago. While the 2017 NHL first-round pick doesn’t post big numbers, he did dish out three assists in the 8-3 Game 7 win over Québec. He’ll need to come up big to shut down Filip Zadina and a talented Mooseheads forward group.
How they match up: Halifax played five physical games against a Baie-Comeau team, so the rest from finishing up the series early was much needed. Otto Somppi, who scored 83 points in the regular season, went down in Game 1 and didn’t return but has been skating in practice. Goalie Alex Gravel had an up-and-down regular season, but tapped into the skill he showed in the 2017 playoffs posting a 1.81 GAA and .944 save percentage. With points in every game, Filip Zadina continues to put on a clinic months before he’s expected to be a top-three NHL draft pick.
Halifax dominated the regular season series between the Maritimes Division teams with seven wins, including the last four meetings. Charlottetown goalie Matthew Welsh, who grew up in Halifax, needs to continue his solid play to give the Islanders a chance.
(5) Drummondville Voltiguers vs. (6) Victoriaville Tigres
Regular-season series: Victoriaville 3-1-1
Last playoff matchup: Drummondville won 4-1 in 2014
Drummondville: Joe Veleno (C), Nicolas Beaudin (D), Xavier Bernard (D), Nicolas Guay (C), Robert Lynch (C), Olivier Rodrigue (G), Daniel Moody (G)
Victoriaville: Tristan Côté-Cazenave (G)
Players to watch
Victoriaville: Ivan Kosorenkov, RW: One of two Russians on the top line, Kosorenkov picked up a pair of goals and seven assists in the five-game series against Gatineau. The other Russian, Vitalii Abramov (CBJ), leads the playoffs with 11 points and may get the most attention, but Kosorenkov consistently lights it up in the CHL and has 74 goals in 140 regular season and playoff games.
Drummondville: Nicolas Beaudin, D: Projected to go somewhere in the second or third round at the NHL Draft in June, Beaudin continues to flourish as a puck-moving defenceman. He had multi-point performances in three out of the five games in the first round for a total of seven points.
How they match up: Only two points separated the teams in the regular season, but Victoriaville has the regular season head-to-head advantage after going 3-2, including three straight wins in 2018. Both teams are well-rested after only needing five games to decide their first-round series.
The two goalies have nearly identical numbers. Victoriaville’s Etienne Montpetit has a 2.01 GAA and .926 save percentage while Olivier Rodrigue has a 2.03 GAA and .911 save percentage for Drummondville.
Victoriaville may hold a slight advantage only because the team is red-hot. Until a 2-1 Game 4 loss on the road, the Tigres had won 13 consecutive games dating back to the regular season. The top line of Abramov, Kosorenkov and Maxim Comtois (ANH) is as good as you’ll see in the QMJHL and combined for 11 of Victoriaville’s 19 goals in the opening round.