AUBURN — Yes, Lewiston weathered the emotional tumult of playing its first-ever “road” game against St. Dom’s at Norway Savings Bank Arena.
Sure, Matt Poulin scored two goals. And you betcha, junior Nick Hawk was sensational with 31 saves, many of them in rapid-fire succession.
But it was the Blue Devils’ less tangible, less glamorous work in the neutral zone that probably spelled the difference in a 3-2 Eastern Class A hockey win Saturday night.
“St. Dom’s has an explosive offense. We didn’t want to beat ourselves,” Lewiston coach Jamie Belleau said. “We wanted to contain them to the outside. We didn’t want to give up too many odd-man rushes. We wanted our defense to be very smart with their decision-making and their pinches and whatnot, and I thought that was the key to the game.”
Lewiston (11-3) completed a regular-season sweep of the Saints (6-6-1), having won a 6-5 overtime thriller in December.
Nick Perreault added a goal for the Devils, who denied the Saints’ spirited rally on the strength of goals by Austin Roy and Mitch Lorenz in the third period.
“Great atmosphere and it came right down to the end of the game,” said coach Steve Ouellette of St. Dom’s, which suffered its third straight one-goal loss to a fellow championship contender. “We’re in a tough stretch. Unfortunately we’ve just been on the short end right now, but tonight was a good response. It’s coming down to a bounce.”
Even without a running start, St. Dom’s applied pressure from beginning to end, finishing with a 33-16 edge in shots on goal.
Hawk handled the hubbub of the game and the roar of the sold-out crowd as if he’d encountered it a million times.
“You’ve got to take your hat off to that kid. He did a nice job. I’m really proud of him,” Belleau said. “There’s a kid who hasn’t played a lot of varsity hockey, and he’s coming into this building the first time ever playing St. Dom’s, and he gave us a chance to stay in the game and win.”
Staked to a 2-0 lead midway through the second period, Hawk made eight saves to short-circuit a St. Dom’s power play, including six in the first 37 seconds.
“I felt the pressure a little bit at first, but you’ve just got to play your heart out and win it for your team and your city,” Hawk said.
Hawk had 22 stops through the first two periods. And after Roy tipped in Bryan Bonenfant’s offering from the right circle to put the Saints on the board 2:56 into the third, the Devils’ backstop received ample support from his defense.
Perreault, Max Bolduc, Kyle Ullrich and Jake Iacono all sacrificed their bodies to block a shot on one Saints possession. Numerous other connections narrowly missed at the goalmouth, with Roy, Cam Stewart and Caleb Labrie all getting a stick on the potential equalizer at point-blank range.
“Their transition game through the neutral zone is a big key, and we did a good job, particularly through the first period, period and a half,” Belleau said. “We struggled a little bit on the defensive boards breaking out late in the game, but that’s because St. Dom’s was pressing.”
All that momentum disappeared in a flash when Bolduc took advantage of a quick possession change and scored his second of the night from long range at 9:24.
Poulin’s blast from the right circle squirted through Zach Roy’s pads. Bolduc notched the assist.
“That was big,” Poulin said. “We knew we had to get one there to take it back.”
Stewart set up Lorenz to get it back to a one-goal separation with 52 seconds remaining, but the Saints couldn’t produce another shot after pulling Roy from the cage.
“I thought around the middle of the second period we started controlling this game, not just on power plays but five-up,” Ouellette said. “Unfortunately we gave one back. Our guys were working hard. As a team I thought they played a pretty solid game, and if they bring that every night I think we’ll do fine.”
Another letdown after a lengthy stretch of unfulfilled promise put the Saints in a 1-0 hole in the final minute of the opening period.
Hawk made four saves on a late power play with significant disruptive help from Bolduc in the slot.
Held to four shots on goal to that point, Lewiston pushed the issue after the penalty expired. Kyle Lemelin’s pass from behind the net located Poulin, who cashed in from the left circle with 22 seconds left.
The lead grew to 2-0 at 7:23 when Perreault’s laser from the point buzzed through traffic.
It was sufficient warm-up for the Hawk Show.
“We kind of let up a little bit in the third period, but then we just dug deep,” said the goalie. “We had to keep fighting back.”