LEWISTON — It was not so much to set the tone but set the stage.
The Lewiston Maineiacs sent out a starting five Tuesday night that caught everybody’s attention to start Game 4 of the playoff series with Drummondville. Down 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, the Maineiacs were desperate to take a stand in their first home playoff game. That stand came with a starting lineup that wasn’t going to be intimidated.
“We had to let them know we weren’t going to get pushed around and take it,” said defenseman Matt Boyle. “They have some big boys and so do we. We just showed them that tonight.”
In the two previous games at Drummondville, the Maineiacs were not pleased with what they considered liberties taken by the Voltigeurs. It got the Maineiacs off track a little and allowed Drummondville to sieze control of the series. Lewiston was determined to send a message before Tuesday’s game even dropped the puck.
“I just figured if we could get the puck deep, we could get a few hits and we could try to get them off their game,” said Lewiston coach J.F. Houle. “Nothing really happened, but I wanted some energy coming out of that first shift.”
Lewiston’s starting five boasted 348 penalty minutes between them during the regular season. They had added another 12 in the playoffs in two previous games. Sam Henley had 222 in the regular season while Etienne Brodeur added 132. Eric Bonawitz (80), Boyle (55) and Cam Critchlow (59) rounded out a starting lineup that wasn’t going to back down and that was the point.
“They’re a very skilled team and the best way to take that skill out of the game is to toss the body and take them off the puck and make them scared if they hear footsteps,” said Bonwitz, a defenseman and Lewiston native.
In contrast, Drummondville’s starting five totaled just 227 penalty minutes in the regular season and Olivier Hotte’s 73 was the most of any of the starting Voltigeurs.
“It’s part of the game,” said Drummondville coach Mario Duhamel. “”It’s something that they tried to do and that’s fine. (Houle) is coaching his game, and he’s trying to build something with his team, and I respect that. We know we can respond, too, if we have to.”
Starting a no-nonsense lineup might have signaled trouble from the start, but its purpose was to deter not to instigate. The first shift was a brief one and a peaceful one. But the rest of the first period followed that tone. The stage was set for the Maineiacs to simply play hockey and compete as best they could.
“It wasn’t as physical as we thought, but maybe we got our message out — that if you’re going to run us, we’re going to run you,” said Boyle, who had 10 penalty minutes in Game 2, both fighting majors.
Though Drummondville outshot Lewiston 19-5 in the first period, the Maineiacs weathered that storm thanks to solid play in net from Adrien Lemay. At period’s end, Lewiston was still tied 0-0 and could sense a chance to give the Voltiguers a battle.
“A definite key point for us is our start,” said Boyle, whose team fell behind 1-0 and 4-0 in the first period of the two previous games. “If we start the game well, who knows what can happen. We kind of showed that tonight, but a few mistake in the third cost us.”
A hard body check wasn’t leveled until well into the opening period. Drummondville didn’t play recklessly and the Maineiacs stood up for themselves when the situation called for it. There would be a few pushes and shoves accompanied by a few taps with a stick here or there. It wasn’t until the third period, with a 3-1 lead, that things got a little chippy. But both teams concentrated on playing hockey and not resorting to cheap stuff.
“We had a lot of energy coming off a close game,” said Bonawitz. “We had home ice too and that gave us a little spark and we wanted to jump on that.”
It set up a strong second period that Houle called one of the best his team had played in the series. Though Drummondville put the game away in the third, Lewiston gave itself a chance to win, and that was the intent from the start.
“I thought we were in the whole game,” said Houle. “We were in there until they scored that third goal.”