LEWISTON — Lewiston's dominance over Edward Little continued Saturday night, but the Eddies certainly made the Blue Devils earn it.
Stefan Vallee capped a 2-on-1 rush with a backhand goal at 8:11 of the third period to give Lewiston some breathing room, helping to lift the Devils to an important 3-1 victory over cross-river rival Edward Little at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.
"It's not unexpected," Lewiston coach Jamie Belleau said. "We knew EL would come out and give us their best game. We knew they had a couple of kids that can put the puck in the net, so if we make a mistake, they can change the dynamic of the game, particularly if we're not putting the puck in the net. And that's how the game went."
Vallee's tally came on the back end of an odd 2-on-1. Both players beat an EL defender to the outside, but as David Cusson made his move, he slipped and fell. Vallee, hot on his heels after having expected a drop pass, stepped over Cusson and gathered the puck. He cut across the top of the crease and lofted a backhander past EL keeper Alan Nelson for the 3-1 advantage.
"Sometimes where we lack a bit in the skill play, we have three or four lines that can skate well," Belleau said. "That line can score as much as any other line, and they've demonstrated that. Stefan had a big goal tonight, and he generated the big goal against Biddeford when he dumped the puck in deep."
"I'm happy with the effort tonight," EL coach Craig Latuscha said. "Could we have played better, though? Yes, we could have."
Nelson was the star of the night, despite the loss, holding Lewiston off the score sheet in the second and for much of the third period. The Blue Devils pelted the senior netminder with 53 shots, with only the three goals to show for it.
"Alan picked it up in summer hockey last year," Latuscha said. "He's making the great saves and he's making the saves he's supposed to. When he keeps his composure, he does pretty well. Tonight, we stayed as close as we did because of him."
On the other end, Lewiston went with junior Evan Bourassa after playing fellow junior Brian Wigant in four consecutive games. Bourassa proved he, too, could handle the bigger games. Though he only saw 11 shots on the night, several of those 11 were tough to handle, and came after long stretches of play where he didn't see any action.
"We look at two kids trying to prove themselves at the varsity level," Belleau said. "They're both going to help us win games, and they both have. We just thought it was a good chance to give Bourassa another game, and it was a big game against a big local rival at home. We knew he'd have to get tested and play big, and he did a good job for us."
Bourassa's best save came in the third as EL pushed for the equalizer while trailing 2-1. The Eddies sprung Drew Lupardo on a breakaway behind a pinching Lewiston defense. Lupardo deked to the backhand and tried to go 5-hole, but Bourassa stayed square to the puck and slid to his right to make the save.
"He did a great job, and that could have changed the whole dynamic of the game," Belleau said.
Lewiston started off quickly and looked to try and make a rout of it early. Matt Poulin made a great individual move around a defender up the right side and then deked Nelson to the ground to put his team on top just 4:16 into the contest. To that point, the shots were already 7-1.
EL tried to claw back by playing physical, but that physicality bordered on illegality, and the Eddies took five penalties in the first frame.
"Five penalties in the first period is unacceptable, and you're not going to win a hockey game when you do that," Latuscha said.
Lewiston took advantage as Devon Beland put home a chance on a Brandon Tiner shot in the final minute of the first to give the Devils a 2-0 cushion.
The Eddies found some power play magic of their own in the second as Lupardo beat Bourassa on a tip in front of a Travis Landry shot and cut EL's deficit to one. Again the Devils outshot EL, but the Eddies never went away.
"We settled down after the first, got a power play goal in the second, which was awesome," Latuscha said.
"Sometimes, we're dominating a game in possession, but we're not scoring," Belleau said. "I think that plays a role, a little bit of frustration, and we have to overcome that. It would be one thing if we're not scoring a lot of goals and not getting a lot of shots. But we're shooting the puck. We can rely on the fact that we're moving the puck, and some of them will eventually go in."