LEWISTON – The Shawinigan Cataractes have embraced their role as the underdog this week as they prepare to face the top-seeded Lewiston Maineiacs in the opening round of the Presidents’ Cup playoffs.

The Maineiacs are also embracing their position as the newly crowned, regular-season champions.

The teams will square off in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series tonight at 7 at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

“The pressure is definitely not on us,” Shawinigan coach Eric Veilleux said. “They lost what? Fourteen games? The pressure is on them, Game 1, it will be on them, Game 2, and it’s going to be on them until it ends either way. All we want to do is give ourselves a chance to win.”

“Nobody has won a game in the playoffs; it’s a new season,” Maineiacs’ skipper Clem Jodoin cautioned. “Everyone is on the same page, the same level. Nobody has proven anything to anybody, yet.”

Two years ago, Lewiston made the playoffs as the No. 10 seed overall under the old playoff format. The Maineiacs mopped the floor with No. 7 Shawinigan in the first round, sweeping the Cataractes 4-0.

“We did talk about it,” Veilleux said. “There were just three players now who were here when it happened. They shared their experience with the rest of the team.”

With all of the knowledge from that failed run, and even with the experience gained from a 1-0 win on Colisee ice earlier this season, the Cataractes are still underdogs.

Lewiston’s 50 wins this season dwarf the Cats’ 25. The Maineiacs have lost just 14 times in regulation this season, and just three times on home ice. Shawinigan has won just 13 games on the road.

Jodoin believes the key to this series, and indeed to his team’s whole playoff run, will be in special teams play.

“I still believe that the special units will win these playoffs,” Jodoin said. “Lately, our power play has been very good. We had consistency. We were generating, so this will be a key factor.”

Shawinigan boasts two solid scoring threats in Danick Bouchard (54 G, 42A) and Francis Pare (29 G, 44 A), but the rest of the team drops off dramatically. Cedric Lalonde-McNicol is next on the team with 46 points.

“They have Bouchard; they have Pare,” Jodoin said. “They have a decent power play, so they can score, but our speed should help us to be a better team.”

That speed is more than two players deep for Lewiston, as is the Maineiacs’ scoring threat. None of the Maineiacs finished in the top 25 in the league in scoring, but 10 players recorded 17 or more goals on the season, and nine players had more than 40 points.

“The word this year is team, we have everybody,” Maineiacs’ captain Marc-Andre Cliche said.

Shawinigan also brings a physical presence, something about which Veilleux is not ashamed.

“That’s our style of play,” Veilleux said. “That’s how we feel we can be successful, playing physical, playing intense, and whoever we play, we want to give ourselves a chance to win. We don’t have the skill level some other teams have, so we need to compensate somewhere else.”

In net, Lewiston will go with 18-year-old veteran Jonathan Bernier, who has played in just two games since Jan. 25. Shawinigan has yet to decide on which rookie keeper it will use – Kevin Maletto or Marc-Andre Perron.

“We’re still unsure who’s going to start Game 1,” Veilleux said. “That’s how even I think they are. They’ve both played some good games, especially lately.”

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