Historically, the first round of the QMJHL playoffs have featured some very lopsided results, along with the occasional upset. This year’s matchups, according to my SRS team rankings, all give the top seed a noted advantage. However, the differences between the top and bottom seeds can be divided into 3 tiers of competitiveness. For a refresher on my SRS rankings, check out my post on predicting the QMJHL playoff champion using SRS.
Tier 1 – The David vs Goliath Matchups
With 16 of the 18 teams in the league making the playoffs, it is a given that there will be some talent mismatches in the first round. These 4 series should all be over in 4 or 5 games, with the SRS differential between the two teams all greater than 2.00. Saint John, Charlottetown and Bathurst have been the top 3 SRS teams since the trade deadline, and should comfortably win their respective series. Blainville-Boisbriand is also included in this tier, despite having a lower ranking than Rouyn-Noranda, due to having received the easiest opponent in the first round, Drummondville, who have been struggling badly since the trade deadline.
Baie-Comeau was particularly unlucky with their playoff matchup. The Drakkar have been playing very well since the trade deadline, good for 10th in my SRS rankings, but they’ve been matched up with the 2nd best SRS team in the league, Charlottetown. Had they finished with 1 less point, they would have been playing the Shawinigan Cataractes, which would have been a much closer series.
Tier 2 – The Middle of the Road Matchups
There are 2 matchups that should be more competitive than tier 1, but should still be relatively comfortable wins for the top seed with the SRS differential between the teams both between 1.00 and 1.50. Rouyn-Noranda has a very talented team once again this year, and should be able to beat Halifax in 5 to 6 games. However, Halifax will give them some tough games given that they are accustomed to playing high-end teams (almost 40% of their games this season were played against Saint John, Charlottetown, or Bathurst).
Shawinigan should also be able to beat Val-d’Or in 5 to 6 games, but the Cataractes have been struggling since the trade deadline. In the first half of the season, Shawinigan was actually 1st in my SRS rankings. They’ve underperformed in the 2nd half, but this remains a talented team that should be able to see off the Val-d’Or Foreurs, who finished 14th in my SRS rankings.
Tier 3 – The Home Ice Advantage Matchups
The two other series should be closely fought and provide some highly entertaining hockey, with the top seed’s home ice advantage potentially being the difference maker. The SRS differential between the two teams are both less than 1, indicating evenly-matched teams. Cape Breton, despite trading away their top player at the deadline, have been playing very well and finished 6th in my SRS rankings. Their opponent, Gatineau, has had a much better 2nd half of the season, and should be able to push the series to 6 or 7 games. That being said, expect Cape Breton to come out on top at the end of this potentially grueling series.
The final matchup will be between the 8th seeded Chicoutimi and the 9th seeded Victoriaville. As expected, this is the closest matchup from an SRS perspective. Chicoutimi added a lot of talent at the trade deadline, and that can partially explain their much stronger 2nd half of the season. Victoriaville has consistently been 9th in my SRS rankings, both pre and post trade deadline, and should prove to be a tough matchup for Chicoutimi. But given the Saguenéens’ strong recent form and home ice advantage, they should be able to win the series in 6 or 7 games.