As I attempt to keep my perfect record on QMJHL playoff predictions (12 for 12 so far), the matchups are getting much tougher to call in the third round. The four remaining teams are the top four teams from the regular season, all bona fide contenders with the pieces to win not just the semifinals, but the QMJHL championship and even the Memorial Cup. There’s no Cinderella here, just four teams built on great goaltending with plenty of weapons that keep coming in waves.
Saint John Sea Dogs (1st) v. Victoriaville Tigres (6th) – Overall, Victoriaville has to be considered slightly weaker than the other remaining teams. But two words give them a chance to go all the way: Kevin Poulin. The New York Islanders prospect has been the top goalie in the playoffs, posting an unreal .943 save percentage and 1.86 goals-against average.
That’s not to say the Tigres are a one-man team. Undrafted 19-year-old Philip-Michael Devos has racked up six goals 16 points in 10 playoff games, while Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Joel Champagne has six goals and 11 points. Brandon Hynes, a 41-goal-scorer and 2010 draft prospect, has been held pointless in seven games, missing the last three with a “lower body” injury.
Victoriaville, the regular-season leader in penalty killing, has allowed just four power-play goals in the playoffs, good for a 93 per cent penalty kill. The Tigres have also had the top playoff power play at 34.8 per cent.
League most valuable player Mike Hoffman is the straw that stirs Saint John’s drink, but five teammates have outscored his 4-6-10 totals, including undrafted 19-year-old Michael Kirkpatrick (6-11-17 in nine games), 20-year-old Penguins prospect Nicholas Petersen (4-11-15), and 16-year-old Jonathan Huberdeau (9-5-14).
Huberdeau is one of four 2011 NHL draft prospects on the Sea Dogs, along with Slovakian Tomas Jurco (5-7-12). Russian Stanislav Galiev, a potential 2010 first-rounder, is yet another weapon, with five goals and 11 points.
Oh, and no offense to Poulin but Saint John has a goaltender, too. Anaheim Ducks prospect Marco Cousineau was the top goalie at the Memorial Cup last year with Drummondville and has a 2.10 GAA and .918 SP in the playoffs. Ultimately, the Dogs have just too many weapons for the Tigres to handle.
PREDICTION: Sea Dogs in 6.
Drummondville Voltigeurs (2nd) v. Moncton Wildcats (5th) – Drummondville, the defending President’s Cup champion, is the top contender out of the western divisions and both teams have been practically unstoppable since Christmas. This could easily be the league final, but unfortunately somebody has to go home.
Montreal Canadiens prospect Gabriel Dumont leads Drummondville with 10 goals and 17 points in nine games, while Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Chris DiDomenico has returned nicely from his broken femur, tallying five goals and 16 points in nine games. Regular-season scoring leader Sean Couturier, meanwhile, has eight goals and 15 points and he continues to build a case for first overall pick in the 2011 NHL draft.
Jake Allen has been solid in net, with a 1.92 goals-against average and .904 save percentage, but some critics say he hasn’t been able to win the “big game” since being drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 2008. A championship would answer questions raised by his sub-par world junior championship final for Canada.
In the Moncton net, returning league MVP and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Nicola Riopel has been dominant after returning from a half-season of pro experience in the AHL (1.97 GAA, .934 SP).
Top 2010 draft prospect Brandon Gormley joins David Savard (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Mark Barberio (Tampa Bay Lightning) on a deep blueline and Anaheim Ducks prospect Nicolas Deschamps tied Couturier for the regular-season scoring lead. Kelsey Tessier (Colorado Avalanche) tops Moncton’s playoff scoring list with eight goals and 15 points, while 20-year-old Randy Cameron also has eight goals. Slovakian 18-year-old Marek Hrivik has 12 points in 10 games, and could sneak into the 2010 draft.
I’m going to call this one in Moncton’s favour, only because they’ve so easily dispatched tough contenders in Cape Breton and Rouyn-Noranda, while Drummondville has had an easier road with Lewiston and Rimouski.
PREDICTION: Wildcats in 7.
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