Put your calculators and crystal balls away because there is no reliable way to figure out who will play who in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs.
There are only two days left in the regular season but there isn’t a single matchup settled.
That’s something I can’t remember ever seeing before but I’d still like to take a run at breaking down what it all looks like heading into an important final weekend.
Let’s start with what we know in the Eastern Conference. First, the Baie-Comeau Drakkar and Halifax Mooseheads will be the top two seeds but the order is still up in the air. The Drakkar (48-14-2-2) have a one-point lead over the Mooseheads (48-15-2-1) and both teams play Friday and Saturday.
Whoever winds up No. 1 will face the No. 8 Quebec Remparts in the first round. The Remparts aren’t pushovers but most would agree they are the most appealing opponent in the East so that’s one reason to grind for first place.
Finishing second carries major uncertainty. There are four teams jockeying in the middle of the pack and there are only four points separating them. The Charlottetown Islanders are in fourth with 85 points, followed by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (82 points) in fifth and the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and Moncton Wildcats tied for sixth with 81 points.
Mathematically, any of those teams could wind up in seventh place, so good luck predicting how that scenario plays out.
We also know the third-place Rimouski Oceanic can’t move up or down so they will face the No. 6 seed. And whoever lands in the middle will make up the No. 4 vs. No. 5 match-up. Home ice is a huge incentive in that series so there is a ton at stake for everyone in the East this weekend, with the exception of the Oceanic and Remparts who already know where they’ll finish.
Over in the Western Conference, the picture is slightly tidier but still very much up in the air. All that is settled at this point is the order of the top four. First through fourth is locked in at: Rouyn-Noranda, Drummondville, Sherbrooke and Victoriaville. The bottom half is where it gets interesting.
Starting in the basement, the No. 8 Shawinigan Cataractes (14-48-1-3) have one more point than the Saint John Sea Dogs (13-48-2-3), who are eligible to slide over from the East under the new format. Whoever wins that race earns the privilege of getting pummelled by the league-leading Huskies in the first round.
Heading into the weekend, Rouyn-Noranda (57-8-0-1) is on pace to set a new league record for wins. The current single-season mark is 58. But the best way to understand the outlook is to consider these stats — the Huskies have 115 points, compared to 32 for the Cataractes and 31 for the Sea Dogs.
Talk about a mismatch.
Battling it out above the Cataractes in the No. 5, 6 and 7 slots are the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (54 points), Val-d’Or Foreurs (53 points) and Gatineau Olympiques (52 points). Those teams are desperately trying to avoid coming up on the short end of that three-way race because a seventh-place finish means a match-up with the second-overall Voltigeurs (50-13-2-1). That will be another massive mismatch.
Whoever can squeeze into the No. 5 spot will draw the No. 4 Tigres and the No. 6 finisher will take on the No. 3 Phoenix. Those series will be toss-ups so there is plenty to play for down the stretch in those races.
No matter what way you slice it, the games across the league on Friday and Saturday are as interesting as we’ve seen in years. There will be some intense scoreboard-watching going on because so much is on the line and that creates something of a bonus playoff atmosphere leading up to the real thing.
Willy Palov covers the Halifax Mooseheads and the QMJHL for The Chronicle Herald.