Thursday, March 26, 2015

SN's First Round Playoff Predictions

Lorne Webster | SN Staff Writer

Welcome to the QMJHL's "March Madness." Much like the NCAA basketball brackets - where a monkey spinning a wheel has arguably an equal chance as many so-called experts at predicting all of the first round winners - projecting the results of this year's QMJHL playoffs is nearly impossible. So here are the thoughts of the Station Nation staff.

Rimouski (1) vs. Victoriaville (16)
Lorne Webster – SN Staff Writer – Rimouski in 4
Rimouski was strong - not dominant - down the stretch, while Victoriaville pretty much stumbled into the playoffs. Led by a league high 13 19-year-old players, Morin, Gauthier et al will be simply too strong for the Tigres.

Kevin Chambers – SN Draft/Prospect Writer – Rimouski in 4
The Oceanic are my pick to win it all and they will get little resistance from a rebuilding Tigres team. There is just too much offensive firepower from the Oceanic. This one will end quickly.

Jamie Tozer – SN Editor – Rimouski in 4
The Oceanic are a tank this season and I’m picking them to be playing in late May. The Tigres… they are not a tank.

Moncton (2) vs. Chicoutimi (15)
Lorne – Moncton in 6
After the Christmas break, the Wildcats jumped onto the backs of Conor Garland and Ivan Barbashev and tore their way through the Maritimes Division. IF - and this is a huge if - the veteran squad from Chicoutimi (with 11 19-year-old players) can ever find a way to contain Moncton's dynamic duo, the Sagueneens could pull off an upset. But doing that for over 30 minutes per game for an entire series will likely prove to be too much. 

Kevin – Moncton in 5
The Wildcats were close to winning the regular season crown, coming right down to the final weekend. Their reward is a dangerous 15th seeded Sags squad. In the end the Wildcats will be too much for the Sags led by leading scorer Conor Garland.

Jamie – Moncton in 5
Chicoutimi has a respectable roster and finished just a few games below .500. They could be dangerous, but not too dangerous for the Wildcats to handle. I think the funky schedule this series is forced to play under will help the Sags out a bit and they’ll win a game somewhere. Moncton is too strong, though.

Blainville-Boisbriand (3) vs. Gatineau (14)
Lorne – Gatineau in 7
Much like the Wildcats, the Armada have relied heavily on veterans - Martel, Jevpalovs and Walcott - to shoulder the bulk of their offensive load. Many (including yours truly) thought Gatineau's Benoit Groulx was a tad crazy to load up on veterans and take one more run at a President’s Cup. But he may just be "crazy like a fox"... and matched up against the Armada. I believe he is set to pull off the biggest upset of this year's playoffs.

Kevin – Blainville-Boisbriand in 6
The Armada are my pick to play in the final against the Oceanic but they drew probably the worst possible first round opponent. Gatineau enters the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the entire league so the potential is definitely there for a bracket buster right out of the gate.

Jamie – Blainville-Boisbriand in 6
No matter where the Olympiques finish in the standings they always seem dangerous come playoff time. They finished .500 this year but enter the post-season with eight wins in their last 10 games. I expect them to make this a series but will fall short to the Armada.

Quebec (4) vs. Cape Breton (13)
Lorne – Quebec in 6
This may be one of the most interesting series to follow as two of the QMJHL's most talented - yet frustratingly inconsistent - teams meet up. If the Screaming Eagles come ready to play a full 60 minutes every night, they can be down right scary. However, the loss of defensive stalwart Olivier LeBlanc is big. The sense is that the uber-talented Ramparts will find their legs and start to show the CHL that they can be a true threat for the Memorial Cup. It may come down to whether or not the real Zach Fucale can be a difference maker. If not, this could turn into a historic upset.  

Kevin – Quebec in 7
The Memorial Cup host team is going to be in tough right out of the gate facing a very dangerous and much improved Screaming Eagles squad. The biggest question might be - does Zach Fucale start over Callum Booth? Booth has outplayed Fucale thus far. Another very tight series I think as these two teams matchup very well.

Jamie – Quebec in 5
This is a huge series for Quebec. If they can quickly eliminate Cape Breton, consistently play well and get some lineup related things sorted out, I think that would give them a big boost moving forward. If not, things could be rocky moving into May.

Shawinigan (5) vs. Halifax (12)
Lorne – Shawinigan in 6
Shawinigan's balanced, hard working lineup, led by young stars Anthony Beauvillier and Dylan Labbe - and backstopped by Marvin Cupper - appear to be ready to take another step towards the top of the QMJHL. Halifax's import stars Nik Ehlers and Timo Meier are sure to lead Halifax to a couple of exciting wins. But constant Cataractes pressure on the young Mooseheads' defence should prove to be too much this time around.

Kevin – Shawinigan in 5
Shawinigan is my dark horse team with no shortage of guys that can fill the net and they have quite possibly the best goaltender in the league in Marvin Cupper. Halifax is going to rely heavily on their two imports - Ehlers & Meier - although they do have some decent secondary scoring. The rebuild is set to begin in Halifax.

Jamie – Shawinigan in 5
Unless Ehlers and Meier score 100 goals – which isn’t impossible – I don’t think the well-balanced and talented Cataractes will have too many troubles. I do expect it to be a somewhat tight series, though. The wild card is the Halifax Forum, which the Mooseheads are forced to play in this round. That place should be rocking and will give the Moose at least one win.

Val-d'Or (6) vs. Rouyn-Noranda (11)
Lorne – Val-d’Or in 6
Teams such as Saint John and Charlottetown must have breathed a sigh of relief knowing they were not facing 20+ hour bus rides to/from northwestern Quebec to face either of these unfriendly neighbours. In light of the heated rivalry between these two teams, their fans will be in high spirits as they prepare to go to battle. However, the sheer volume of offensive weapons in Foreur green - such as Richard, Aube-Kubel, Gauthier, etc. - will likely give the young Huskies' goaltenders nightmares before this series concludes.

Kevin – Val-d’Or in 5
The Foreurs are another dangerous team that could make some noise in the playoffs. They had a hot streak just prior to the post-season and boast six players with a point-per-game average or higher. The Huskies have their fair share of offense but starting a rookie goaltender with a rookie backup will be a tall order given the firepower that the Foreurs will bring.

Jamie – Val-d’Or in 5
Rivals from up north and wherever. All I have to say.

Baie-Comeau (7) vs. Saint John (10)
Lorne – Saint John in 6
When the two most penalized teams in the QMJHL meet, one should expect plenty of rough play - so specialty teams will be incredibly important. The teams matchup fairly well and both teams struggled down the stretch. The Drakkar have an advantage in the number of point-per-game forwards, while the Sea Dogs have an edge in terms of offensive defencemen. Both teams have excellent goaltending in Sebastien Auger and Philippe Cadorette. Ultimately, discipline - or lack thereof - will be the major story line in this series. Boko Imama - and his ability to keep the Drakkar's ruffians in line - will be a key to success for the Sea Dogs.

Kevin – Baie-Comeau in 6
The two most penalized teams in the QMJHL will be going head to head in what has the potential to be an all-out war on the ice. Maybe the playoffs will cause the PIMs to drop… but than again, maybe they will make it worse between these two clubs.  Two of the league’s best goaltenders - Auger and Cadorette - should be able to keep the games close. The Sea Dogs will have their hands full with the QMJHL’s leading goal scorer Maxime St-Cyr who finished with 54 goals on the season. The Sea Dogs have given up too many goals down the stretch. Sorry Sea Dog fans… but the draft is coming.

Jamie – Baie-Comeau in 5
My philosophy for predicting the first round has always been to write down how long I think the series will go and then subtract one game. That’s what I’m doing here. Sorry. I expect everyone to be entertained by this series while also being angered about the officiating. Good times will be had by all.

Sherbrooke (8) vs. Charlottetown (9)
Lorne – Charlottetown in 7
This series could be epic. Young stars Sprong, Audette, Chlapik, Schweri, Weiser and Goulet were all in the QMJHL's top 50 scorers. Both have young defencemen with proven veterans to lead the way. The Islanders may hold an advantage in goal with Calgary Flames prospect Mason MacDonald on the case. The key to this series is if the Islanders power line of Johnston-Rydstrom-Cooper can grind the Phoenix defence into the boards.

Kevin – Sherbrooke in 7
The pick ‘em of all the series, I think this will be the closest. Expect to see lots of these games decided by a single goal. These two seem to be about as even as a series can get as both have players that can finish. Although I’ll give a slight edge to the Phoenix, I like Charlottetown’s goaltending over Sherbrooke. A tight series that should go right down to the wire, but unfortunately for the Islanders, it’s an all too familiar result.

Jamie – Sherbrooke in 6
This could be a great series against two mid-pack teams. Both teams feature playoff hungry young cores and are franchises that want to find success right now while also building for the future. I’m going to take Sherbrooke winning in six games only because I’m not sure the world is prepared for the Islanders/Rocket to win a playoff series again just yet.

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