The final battle for the President’s Cup begins tonight in Saint-John, when the Sea Dogs host the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. It's sure to a series of good-quality, entertaining hockey as both teams come in red-hot and have been preparing for this for a long time.
The Sea Dogs have dropped only two games all post-season. While the Armada have lost only four themselves you have to consider that they were pushed to the brink of elimination against Acadie-Bathurst. Blainville did come through in spades, though, reeling off three straight victories including a 7-1 series finale.
Series Draft Note: Draft-eligible center Antoine Morand had only two assists through the first three games of the series, but exploded with a four-point performance in a Game Four win for the Titans. He finished with one goal and five assists versus Blainville, but he was a minus-5 and did have trouble with the much bigger and stronger P-L Dubois up the middle. Morand should be a second-round pick this June.
Highlights from a recent game demonstrate how dangerous Antoine Morand is:
Saint John made easy work of Rimouski and Val-d'Or, and that's no slight toward either team. The Sea Dogs outscored the Oceanic 22-8 in Round One, and the Foreurs 20-6 in Round Two including 9-2 and 7-1 thrashings respectively.
In what will be a battle of contrasting styles, the Sea Dogs have a star-studded lineup that rolls three lines and a plethora of defensemen who can consistently produce offense. Names like Mathieu Joseph, Julien Gauthier, Joseph Valeno (2018) up front and Thomas Chabot, Jakub Zboril and Simon Bourque on the backend.
Blainville-Boisbriand on the other hand, thrives on a tight team system where everybody has a specific role and defense always comes first. The first round exhibited no better example of their identity, as the Armada built a wall the Voltigeurs couldn't conquer, allowing just one goal against in each of the four games and just 26 shots against over the first pair of games.
Samuel Montembault has been a big part of that effort, raising his game and sporting a sparkling 1.95 GAA and .923 SVP in his 14 games played. Not to be outdone, Callum Booth has been clutch, maintaining a 1.85 GAA and .912 SVP through three rounds, including two shutouts. Their save percentage is quite relevant here, as they have both allowed 27 goals, but Booth on 44 fewer shots.
While the Sea Dogs spread the wealth, Blainville-Boisbriand relies on two heavy lifters who carry the load offensively in P-L Dubois and Alex Barre-Boulet. The two combined for 70 points in just 28 games once acquired at the trade deadline and have already combined for another 50 this post-season. Barre-Boulet, acquired from Drummondville, let his former team have it from the opening faceoff. He scored just over a minute into Game One, and piled up three goals and three assists (points in every game) over the course of the sweep.
The 19-year-old is playing for a contract after going undrafted in 2015, but his 14 goals and 29 points in 16 playoff games and stellar QMJHL career make the case for an NHL deal as soon as his season is over. Whether that is in 11 days or fewer at the hands of the Sea Dogs, or prolonged two weeks with a shot at the Memorial Cup remains to be seen.
Much of that will depend on whether or not the Armada's two big guns can pierce the Sea Dogs’ defense and outsnipe Joseph and co. with the help of superior goaltending and mistake-free hockey.
Saint John will also have to limit its mistakes and show more discipline than usual by staying out of the box. The Dogs may feel comfortable down a man; boasting the league's best penalty-kill and even scoring 25 shorties (regular season and playoffs combined), but Blainville-Boisbriand's power play has been dynamite this spring, scoring 20 times on 61 attempts (32.8%).
Series Draft Note: Joel Teasdale has 15 points in 16 games for Blainville-Boisbriand, clipping along at a higher PPG rate than his 47-point regular season. He is Mr. Versatile for the Armada and I believe this level of competition will bring out the best parts of his game as he continues to ascend as we inch toward the draft. Teasdale is a potential third-round pick at the moment.
Putting aside all the numbers, it will come down to who wants it most. This will be a great series featuring great players, and no matter what happens after seven (if necessary) games, both teams should hold their heads high for what they've already accomplished and their futures that lie ahead.
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