LEWISTON – Was it or wasn’t it icing?
“Of course it wasn’t,” said Halifax forward Bryce Swan with a wry smile “I’m pretty sure (defenseman Jiri) Suchy’s smarter than that.”
“I didn’t hear a whistle,” echoed fellow front-liner Frederik Cabana.
Lewiston coach Clem Jodoin wouldn’t comment, while Halifax coach Al MacAdam laughed and told reporters he was “talking to somebody on the bench and didn’t even see it.”
Icing or not, the play following a Jiri Suchy dump-in from center ice turned into a pretty good scoring chance for Halifax, and eventually into Cabana’s game-winning goal.
In a game that defied all playoff axioms, Cabana snuck a short-side wrister past Lewiston Maineiacs goaltender Jonathan Bernier with 3:05 to play in a wild third period, lifting the visiting Halifax Mooseheads to a 6-5 win in Game 6 of the teams’ best-of-7 playoff series. Halifax won the series, 4-2.
“It was a tough loss, a tough game,” said Maineiacs forward Eric Castonguay.
“We’ve been competing hard the whole season as a team,” said Jodoin. “We win as a team, we lose as a team. Nothing much more I can say.”
Playoffs are usually known for stellar goaltending, the importance of special teams and clean, up-and-down hockey. The Maineiacs and the Mooseheads had none of the above Monday night.
“We know that tonight’s game wasn’t that pretty for us,” said MacAdam, “for them I’m sure either, but that’s the challenge of the game and how you regroup from that and how you persevere.”
Particularly puzzling was the lack of solid goaltending. Jeremy Duchesne led the league through five games with a microscopic goals-against average and stellar save percentage, both the best in the league. He also had virtually stolen Game 5 in Halifax on Saturday by himself.
Bernier took the loss hard. He sat slumped over in his stall in the locker room.
“He had a bad game,” said Jodoin. “What else can you say? He had many, many good games this year, but tonight, he had a bad game.”
On the goal-scoring front, both teams had been searching for offense since the beginning of the series. Monday, they both got it.
“Both teams were showing their offensive output tonight,” said Swan. “The goalies carried most of the series, making the big saves, so hats off to them.”
The first goal, which in the first five games had been scored by the eventual winning team, was only the beginning of an 11-goal outburst by the two teams. Lewiston, bolstered in part by a small but raucous crowd, got the first one at 11:26 of the first period. Maxime Mathieu poked the puck through Duchesne on a scrum in front generated initially by an Eric Castonguay shot from the right side of the net. Mathieu, Castonguay and three Halifax players crashed the crease, and Mathieu got a stick on the loose puck.
Daniel Smith, son of Halifax majority owner Bobby Smith, got credit for the equalizer 4:26 later when a Justin Pender shot from the high slot glanced off the rookie forward and past Bernier.
Stefano Giliati went hard into the boards on a cross check by Halifax defender Luciano Lomanno 12:04 into the opening period and did not return, creating a hole in the Maineiacs’ front line.
“It was just unlucky,” said Giliati. “I didn’t miss a shift all season, and then to miss the end of the last game of the season, it’s tough.”
The Mooseheads struck for two early in the middle frame to take a 3-1 lead, only to watch as Marc-Andre Cliche and Eric Castonguay knotted the score late in the second for the Maineiacs.
“We had a 3-1 lead, they came back, we got another lead, they came back, it was back and forth,” said Cabana. “They’re a good hockey team there and they battled, never gave up, but we didn’t either.”
Castonguay put the Maineiacs back in front just 1:33 into the third period on a weak shot from the left side, but 44 seconds later, Rane Carnegie tied the game again on a blast from the right circle.
Logan MacMillan put Halifax back ahead at 7:47, and Mathieu Aubin set the stage for Cabana’s heroics at 12:29 with his third goal of the playoffs.