LEWISTON – There is no stage in sports so bathed in drama as playoff hockey.

Exhibit A: The Lewiston Maineiacs’ insanely entertaining 4-2 victory over the Shawinigan Cataractes in Friday night’s Game 1 of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs. Exhibit B: I’ll get back to you in a few hours after Game 2 at Androscoggin Bank Colisee.

Settle in and set the alarm on your left wrist so you don’t skip the blood pressure medication for a few weeks.

While I’m betting the Cataractes aren’t long for this party after a devastating finish, this series could persist for seven games. So could the next three. And we haven’t whispered a word about the Memorial Cup.

Phew.

“It’s going to be a long series,” said Lewiston coach Clem Jodoin, the dark circles under his eyes hinting at sleepless nights, past and future. “It’s very, very physical. It’s tougher, meaner. The price of winning a hockey game is higher.”

On the happy-endings scale, if you exist and expire with the Maineiacs, this one was headed for “Terms of Endearment” status until the last two minutes of regulation. If playoff hockey has the “it” factor, Friday’s first installment of this soap opera reeked of the “Oh, (expletive that rhymes with ‘it’)” factor.

Shawinigan, seeded eighth and not-so-intimidatingly nicknamed “waterfall” if you speak French or “debilitating optic disease” if you’re like me and struggle with English, regaled 2,668 partisans with an effort that wasn’t easy on jaundiced eyes.

Though the best regular-season team in the ‘Q’ outshot and outskated its house guest, Lewiston was out-of-lucked into a 2-1 deficit. Seventy games doggedly pursuing home-ice advantage, for this?

No, for this: Three goals in a 59-second span. David Perron scored the first two on the power play and saved the night. Chad Denny unleashed an empty-netter from center ice and lit the victory cigar.

It’s worth mentioning that Lewiston lost only three hockey games here in regulation all season. In that other season.

“Every game all the way through the playoffs, you need to play hard every shift,” said Lewiston goaltender and Los Angeles Kings prospect Jonathan Bernier. “You want to win every game. They surprised me. Just their effort. They battled hard. They blocked shots.”

Lewiston and Shawinigan played twice (and split) during the regular season, as if it matters. There is not even a passing, family resemblance between pre-New Year’s hockey and March, April, May or June hockey.

This not-so-startling revelation coming from a guy who admittedly would choose the Preparation-H/Schlitz Malt Liquor Disinterest Bowl on Dec. 29 over a Bruins-Canadiens game without even asking his 9-year-old to set the TiVo.

Playoff hockey is to Jimi Hendrix as the last game of the regular season is to Chris Daughtry. It’s the difference between filet mignon and a fast-food burger.

Shawinigan hasn’t feasted much at this level.

“Twelve rookies on this club, it was their first (playoff) hockey game,” said Shawinigan coach Eric Veilleux.

You wouldn’t have known it. Defensemen sacrificed their bodies to deny Lewiston’s snipers at the point of attack. Forwards crashed the net with the urgency of a teen-movie nerd pestering the pretty girl for a prom date.

Lewiston answered shot-for-shot, grit-for-grit.

As he celebrated his game-winning goal, Perron dabbed away the blood from a two-inch-long cut on the bridge of his nose.

“We found a way to win,” said Bernier, who enjoyed the safest seat in the house at the other end.

Heavyweight title fights used to have this kind of ambiance. You remember heavyweight title fights.

No Super Bowl, no World Series game, no NASCAR race featuring the Car of Tomorrow, Today or Last Week packs this kind of punch.

That’s because it’s brutal and beautiful. It’s exhausting and invigorating. And it’s going to happen again tonight.

Kalle Oakes is a staff writer. His e-mail is [email protected]


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