LEWISTON — They hung up six goals on Nick Champion last week, and the Lewiston netminder wasn't going to let the Saint John Sea Dogs have the satisfaction of doing it again.
Champion stopped 44 of the 46 shots he faced Friday and five different Lewiston skaters scored as the Maineiacs nearly returned the favor in support of their goaltender, upending league-leading Saint John 5-2 in front of 2,007 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
"That's been kind of on my mind ever since the buzzer went in that game," Champion said. "I definitely wanted to focus on getting them back for that."
The win snapped a four-game Lewiston skid, and also stifled a 10-game Saint John win streak.
"They played a playoff-type game," Saint John coach Gerard Gallant said. "We're the No. 1 team in the country right now, and you get the target on you because of it. They played hard, they had 20 guys competing real hard both ways."
Lewiston broke open a tense game in the second period with a pair of goals 1:06 apart late in the frame, the first coming from what Houle called the Maineiacs' "best line over the last few weeks."
Lewiston finally broke the Saint John pressure and pinned the puck deep in Sea Dogs territory. Stefan Fournier and Antoine Houde-Caron worked against three Saint John defenders behind goalie Frederic Piche's cage. Houde-Caron picked the puck from between all of the skates and flipped it to Sam Henley in the right circle. Henley then backhanded the puck inside the right post and into the cage.
"We're three guys who like to work," Houde-Caron said. "Stef and Henley have big size. They know how to take advantage of that size. I'm a grinder too, and we play well together."
"They've been good, even through the four games we lost, that line has been the best line," Houle said. "They work, work, work. Houde-Caron stuck in there and Henley was right there in front. That line really deserves it."
Saint John threatened and indeed scored to pull within two in the third, but Michael Chaput finished a 2-on-1 with Etienne Brodeur later in the final frame to ice the game in favor of the Mainieacs.
After trading unsuccessful shots through the first half of the opening frame, Champion made arguably his best save of the season. Stanislav Galiev slipped through the Lewiston defense up the right seam and cut to the middle of the ice behind the defense. Champion sprawled from his left to right, lunged forward with his upper body and chested the puck away from the cage.
Francis Beauvillier turned Champion's effort, which had already drawn the crowd to its feet, into something even better for the home fans. Beauvillier grabbed the puck from the low slot, saw Antoine Houde-Caron racing toward center ice and flipped the puck 100 feet forward. It landed at the Saint John blue line, where Houde-Caron scooped it up and bore down on Sea Dogs' keeper Frederic Piche, tucking the puck five-hole to put the Maineiacs on top, 1-0.
"I think I was changing," Houde-Caron admitted. "I'm not sure. Champ made a huge save, and Beauvillier, he wasn't panicking, he made a nice lob, and I had speed, so I took off."
Riding the wave of the momentum they'd created with the first goal, the Maineiacs added to their lead just 1:02 later. Olivier Dame-Malka's first offering hit Steven Anthony in the hand, but Lewiston shuffled the puck back to Dame-Malka at the left point, and let go another bomb. This one zipped past everyone and into the cage, sending the water bottle flying high into the air off the top of the netting behind Piche.
The Sea Dogs didn't take long in the second period to remind the Maineiacs who they are and how good they can be. Simon Despres capped one of the finer individual efforts of the season when he scored on a wrap-around after circumnavigating the Lewiston zone twice with his team on the power play just 35 seconds into the frame.
The Maineiacs play three more games before a prolonged holiday break, including one more at home, a 7 p.m. contest against the PEI Rocket on Wednesday. Lewiston finishes the unofficial first half on the road in Montreal on Friday and in Shawinigan on Saturday.