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Halifax Mooseheads loaded — who can stop them? QMJHL first-round playoff preview

The Halifax Mooseheads' formidable opposition is out there somewhere. Or so the QMJHL might hope after successive springs where a powerhouse nearly swept through the playoffs.

There is more to the Mooseheads than Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon, since a team doesn't win a league record-tying 58 games without having exceptional depth by the standards of the Q. Halifax is headed into the playoffs riding a two-month-long wave where it has sustained only two regulation losses, to the Moncton Wildcats and Quebec Remparts, since their two top prospects returned from playing in the world junior championships as 17-year-olds.

Mikhail Grigorenko shuffling back from Buffalo makes Quebec a challenger. The Moncton Wildcats also have the most pressure to produce a playoff run after trading for Chicago Blackhawks first-rounder Phillip Danault in January. The Q's second season begins Thursday with a single game between Acadie-Bathurst and Blainville-Boisbriand before beginning in earnest on Friday.

(8) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (40-24-1-3, .618 point pct.) vs. (9) Drummondville Voltigeurs (38-26-2-2, .588). Odds favour: Rouyn-Noranda 57 per cent. Most likely outcome: Rouyn-Noranda in 7.

It's a toss-up, as the teams were 24th and 25th in the CHL-wide RPI at the end of the regular season. It would be uncertain enough even if both teams did not go in relying on 17-year-old goalies. The Huskies are counting on Louis-Philip Guindon, while the Voltigeurs are counting on Alexandre Bélanger.

Huskies have a better-known offensive cast with their imports Nikita Kucherov (53 points in 27 games for Rouyn) and Sven Andrighetto, along with breakout 19-year-old Jean-Sébastien Dea. Drummondville cannot match that star power, but putting all their overage eggs in the defence basket with Raman Hrabarenka, Jordan Murray and Gabriel Vermette might pay off.

(7) P.E.I. Rocket (41-23-3-1, .632) vs. (10) Val-d'Or Foreurs (35-27-0-6, .559). Odds favour: P.E.I. 65%. Most likely outcome: P.E.I. in 6.

The Rocket have a tough draw in a series that matches 100-point scorers Josh Currie and Ben Duffy against Val-d'Or's Anthony Mantha, the Q's only 50-goal scorers. Val-d'Or coach Mario Durocher has a consistent team with three massive forwards with Mantha and 6-foot-5 siblings Cédrick Henley and Samuel Henley, along with former Memorial Cup hero Anton Zlobin. The Foreurs are very capable of splitting in Charlottetown (their goalie, Philippe Tremblay, played in Cape Breton, so the rink should familiar to him) before coming home for games 3, 4 and 5.

If the Rocket are going to win, it might take seven games. To think the QMJHL thinks nothing of a playoff matchup between teams from cities approximately 1,650 km apart. But the OHL won't go to a more equitable 1-through-16 playoff format since Ottawa and Sault Ste. Marie might have to make a nine-hour drive.

(6) Moncton Wildcats (42-23-2-1, .640) vs. (11) Victoriaville Tigres (32-27-3-6, .537). Odds favour: Moncton 73%. Most likely outcome: Moncton in 6.

The 'Cats were running seventh overall when they anted up for world junior forward Phillip Danault from Victo at the trade deadline, which propelled them all the way up to sixth. Moncton is going to have some input into who hoists the President's Cup, but it's fair to say that the skill that Danault, 99-point scorer Dmitrij Jaskin and twins Alex and Allain Saulnier furnish hasn't always been buttressed by being rough-and-tumble when that's required.

Maritime teams can also wilt with a 2-3-2 format. If the Tigres and Chicago Blackhawks-drafted goalie Brandon Whitney squeeze out a split in northern New Brunswick, the series could get awfully intriguing.

(5) Quebec Remparts (42-21-3-2, .654) vs. (12) Chicoutimi Saguenéens (30-31-2-5, .493). Odds favour: Quebec 72%. Most likely outcome: Quebec in 5.

Grigorenko's return makes the Remparts a playoff sleeper, although their newfound focus will be tested by being thrown into a toss-the-stats traditional matchup vs. Les Sags. Quebec has won 17-of-24 games since the Halifax Mooseheads made them humble with an 11-2 rout on Jan. 18.

Montreal Canadiens prospect Charles Hudon and draft riser Laurent Dauphin give Chicoutimi some offensive threats. The Saguenéens, ultimately, probably took a bigger cut last season when they loaded up for the playoffs.

(4) Rimouski Océanic (41-18-3-6, .669) vs. (13) Gatineau Olympiques (29-34-1-4, .463). Odds favour: Rimouski 79%. Most likely outcome: Rimouski in 5.

The Océanic go in missing three defencemen — captain Casey Babineau, hulking Samuel Morin and Ryan MacKinnon, who handles some power-play duty. Nineteen-year-old wing Francis Beauvillier is also sidelined. Rimouski is beatable, but Gatineau has scuffled along all season at below .500.

The 'Piques could be a tough out if they get healed up, if Tomas Hyka and if 19-year-old goalie Robert Steeves steps up. That is a lot of ifs. Rimouski coach Serge Beausoleil, even with a limited lineup, still has the fallback of getting the Océanic deep into the playoffs.

(3) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (41-19-2-6, .662) vs. (14) Acadie-Bathurst Titan (26-35-5-2, .434). Odds favour: Blainville-Boisbriand 89%. Most likely outcome: Blainville-Boisbriand in 5.

Being the third seed instead of the second is not so bad for B-B. Defencemen Xavier Ouellet and Samuel Carrier and Co. face a skating team in Bathurst rather than Sherbrooke, which would just have to be a nuisance hard-working team. Overage Zach O'Brien (47 goals, 92 points) and fellow centre Michaël Beaudry (34 and 81) are a nice tandem, but the Armada can trap a team until it's bored to tears.

(2) Baie-Comeau Drakkar (44-19-2-3, .684) vs. (15) Sherbrooke Phoenix (23-44-1-0, .375). Odds favour: Baie-Comeau 90%. Most likely outcome: Baie-Comeau in 5.

That five-game result is what the numbers spit it out, but Baie-Comeau should sweep the expansion Phoenix. A better chewable is how much emphasis should be put on making the playoffs on the first crack. In 2005-06, the St. John's Fog Devils reached the second round. The Saint John Sea Dogs won 15 games. Four seasons later, St. John's had moved to the Montreal area and the Fog Devils were in the President's Cup final. Sherbrooke coach Judes Vallée did count heavily on using five overages, including three of his top four scorers and goalie Jacob Chouinard. Sherbrooke, which is here for the experience, has only one 19-year-old, though, so it won't start completely from scratch in Year 2.

(1) Halifax Mooseheads (58-6-3-1, .882) vs. (16) Saint John Sea Dogs (23-44-1-0, .346). Odds favour: Halifax 99%. Most likely outcome: Halifax in 4.

It's not how with Halifax, but how much they win by and how healthy they stay. The Sea Dogs have been stripped down to the bares bones, save for the remnants of the dynasty — captain Pierre Durepos, team-MVP goalie Sébastien Auger and with a flute up his nose, Ralph Wiggum (not really, but it might as well be). At least Sportsnet isn't making the mistake of televising Game 1 of the Maritimes mismatch like it did during Saint John's 2012 cakewalk vs. Cape Breton. Drouin, MacKinnon and Zach Fucale will get their spotlight soon enough.

— with files from Mike Sanderson

(Odds calculated by Rob Pettapiece.)

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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