Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Halifax Mooseheads forward Jonathan Drouin leads all QMJHL playoff scorers with 27 points in just nine games. (Ghyslain Bergeron / CP)

The 2014 QMJHL playoffs are down to the final four teams, and everyone is wondering one thing:

Where are all the upsets?

Usually playoffs in any junior league feature some fun upsets or storylines to keep the party going. So far, only two underdog teams, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies over the Quebec Remparts in round 1 (10 over 7) and the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada over the Rimouski Océanic in round 2 (5 over 4 with a overtime Game 7, shocker), have proven victorious over higher-seeded opponents.

Really, Game 7 of the Océanic-Armada series is the first game of real drama that any of the victors have faced, and that was an 8-7 see-saw overtime game that had the makings of a classic no matter which teams faced off.

That leaves us with 1-vs-5, and 2-vs-3. The best of the QMJHL are left. Let the games begin, burning questions-style!

1) Baie-Comeau Drakkar (47-16-2-3, 99 pts.) vs. (5) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (41-17-5-5, 92 pts.)

Season series: Even (2-2). Odds favour: Baie-Comeau 63%. Most mathematically likely outcome: Baie-Comeau in 5. Prediction: Baie-Comeau in 7.

So, will the Drakkar finally lose? Baie-Comeau is the lone team to go undefeated in the first two rounds in 2014, and within reason. They are a dominant team with a deep bench and great scoring. The Drakkar have won every game by two goals or more.

However, they beat up on the Shawinigan Cataractes without having to break a sweat in the first round, and handled a tough-but-not-difficult Rouyn team who already upset Quebec in round 2. They haven’t faced adversity yet in these playoffs and likely will in this series, facing a playoff rival who remembers last season and isn’t ready to go away quietly.

The Drakkar will finally lose a game in this series, but will ultimately win.

Will the Game 7 shooting gallery against Rimouski affect Blainville-Boisbriand? Absolutely. Can they turn it into a positive? Yes.

The Armada won the last two games in that series on the road They came back from a 4-0 deficit after one period to win a Game 7 on Tuesday. They still have adrenaline squirting out of their ears at this point, with just a two-day respite between rounds. That’s not long enough to lose the appetite of winning a huge game in standout fashion.

The Armada are loose and are still in intense-playing-mode, while the Drakkar haven’t played in 10 days.

Then why do you have Baie-Comeau winning the series? Ultimately, talent trumps all, and the Drakkar have just too much of it to sneak past the Armada.

Their D is well rested and hasn’t been an issue at all. In fact, they have one of the deepest groups in the league, led by their three 20-year-old rearguards Gabriel Verpaelst, Alex Chênevert and Francis Turbide, along with 6-foot-5 Alexis Vanier and Dominic Poulin. They have one of the best defensive prospects in the league playing sheltered minutes in Nicolas Meloche. Defensively, they are mighty fine.

Offensively, it’s nearly a wash, but the Drakkar’s depth of Charles Hudon, Maxime St-Cyr, Felix Girard and Frédérick Gamelin up the middle is scary as all heck.

The Armada have offensive players too though, right? Of course, they have Nikita Jevpalovs, Christopher Clapperton, Ryan Tesink, Frédérick Bergeron and Danick Martel up front. All players who can score. However, they aren’t as balanced as the Drakkar are up front, and while Daniel Walcott and Dominic Talbot-Tassi offer solid offence from the D, it won’t be enough to combat the Baie-Comeau blueliners.

What about in goal? Who has the better gladiator in front of the cage? Honestly? The edge is to the Armada, barely. Étienne Marcoux was on Team Canada’s radar a year ago until injury and a slump took him off, but has regained his form and looked good so far in the post-season. He’s a calm, cool and collected netminder who plays well as the last line of defence behind a solid team defensive strategy.

Philippe Cadorette is just slightly below Marcoux in the goaltending tiers in the QMJHL. He might be just as good, but he isn’t as proven, and is two years younger. Give him credit he hasn’t faltered, and had a good playoff year last year as well, so he could be in his element, but talent-wise, Marcoux is the better netminder for these next two weeks.

Can the Armada win on the road? Both teams won their respective home games in the season series, with the Armada emerging victorious in two games before Christmas, and Baie-Comeau winning both after the new year. Remember, the Armada started with a ten-game winning streak to open the year, and had a season of ups and downs, dropping 8-of-12 to land in the playoffs after another eight-gamer.

The Armada were 19-11-4-0 on the road and have won 4-of-7 so far in two rounds. The Drakkar came into the playoffs with a 25-7-0-2 mark on home ice.

If the Armada can steal a game, preferably two, on Drakkar ice, they could take this series.

Will we see another bench-clearing brawl like we saw last year?

That is all I ask. Please. Make it so.

(2) Halifax Mooseheads (47-18-0-3, 97 pts.) vs. (3) Val-d’Or Foreurs (46-20-1-1, 94 pts.)

Season series: Halifax (2-0). Odds favour: Val-d’Or 59%. Most mathematically likely outcome: Val-d’Or in 6. Prediction: Halifax in 6.

Will this series break down into Jonathan Drouin vs. Anthony Mantha? I, for one, certainly hope so. The two premier talents of the league going head-to-head in a lengthy seven-gamer would produce amazing hockey. The league could attract some more eyes if Mantha and Drouin were to go all Jordan and Bird on us, and create a staggering display of one-up-manship throughout the series.

One thing’s for sure: both players are shredding the league up right now. Mantha leads all playoff scorers with 10 goals, while Drouin is currently scoring at a three-points-a-game clip(!).

Both players names will be on the marquee as the main attractions, and rightly so. Now, both players have to earn it. The better player will win the series for his team, here is no question about it.

Wait, you have Val-d’Or as the team the odds favour? Apparently so. The Foreurs played out of a tougher division this season, and had far fewer cupcake games than the Mooseheads, who had nine games each vs. Acadie-Bathurst, Charlottetown and draft lottery winner Saint John.

Every team in Val-d’Or’s division made the second round, and Blainville-Boisbriand are still playing. Meanwhile, Halifax has been the only representative of their division for two rounds now. You be the judge. Strength of schedule has a lot to do with it.

Okay, then why do you have Halifax winning the series? Experience plays a huge part of it. When 13 of your players were part of a Memorial Cup team last season, it matters. You have 13 players who have been there before and know the sacrifices and pressure, but have already stood at the top of the mountain once before? It’s a huge advantage.

Scoring plays into it as well. The Drouin-Nikolaj Ehlers-Philippe Gadoury line has 64 points combined in only nine games. That makes for, by far, the highest scoring trio left in the playoffs. Val-d’Or doesn’t have a defensive answer to this line.

Val-d’Or can score too, right? They do have Mantha. Yes, they do, and he also has Samuel Henley and Louick Marcotte there to help out. The difference is that Halifax has defensive answers to combat this line, namely their top pairing of Mackenzie Weegar and Austyn Hardie.

What about in goal? Here’s the other major advantage for the Mooseheads. They have Zach Fucale, Team Canada's starting goaltender in the last World Junior Championship. He backstopped the team to a Memorial Cup last year. He was the first goaltender selected in the 2013 NHL draft.

The Foreurs have Toronto Maple Leafs pick Antoine Bibeau, who has played very well so far in the playoffs, but he’s never been this deep in the playoffs before. Up until January, he was a Charlottetown Islander, a team that’s never made it out of the first round in their franchise history. He’s also never faced a talent as strong as Drouin for seven games straight. Edge Drouin.

Will the energy from the second round carry over into this one? Both teams played particularly tough series in the second round, though they both won with games to spare.

Halifax defeated Gatineau in five games, outlasting their bump-and-grind game and ceding just one game to the crazy Olympiques fans at the Robert Guertin Arena. Val-d’Or let Drummondville steal Game 1 before winning four of the next five.

Both teams could use the momentum from the last series in their favour, but it would be advantage Val-d’Or. They played Sunday, while Halifax wrapped up their series seven days before Game 1 on Friday.

So what you’re saying is 'if you like scoring, pay attention to this series’? Pretty much. The seven best scorers still alive in the QMJHL playoffs are in this series. Get your popcorn ready.

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