LEWISTON – Thirty-love.

It was more a serve-and-volley game than a highlight film of aces, but Lewiston held serve to christen the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs.

The Maineiacs didn’t shellack Shawinigan from the moment it unloaded the bus this weekend. Then again, it’s hard to imagine 10-0 and 8-1 being more demoralizing than 4-2 (Friday) and 4-3 (Saturday).

Shawinigan’s interminable ride home will be wrought with wouldas, consumed by couldas and shaken by shouldas. To a peach-fuzzed man this morning, Les Cataractes are still trying to figure out how they didn’t escape Androscoggin Bank Colisee with a split. Heck, they believe both games were in the bank.

Good and great teams win these games 99 times out of 100, especially at home. There’s a reason Lewiston’s season-long number in the win column (52) now doubles that of its first-round sparring partner. It’s not so much the what, but the how that ought to convince any remaining holdouts that Lewiston is on the cusp of something special this spring.

“We talk about needing to win 16 games. Now we’re down to 14,” said Lewiston defenseman Sebastien Piche, who scored two goals to keep the Maineiacs afloat Saturday in a frantic first period. “Now we have a chance to hopefully go up there and steal two more games.”

Lewiston trailed both nights. Three goals in a 59-second span righted the ship in the series opener. The drama was dragged out a hair in the encore.

Chad Denny’s blistering one-timer from just beyond the circles tied it at 7:30 of the second period. Simon Courcelles went top shelf to punctuate a textbook 3-on-2 at 3:57 of the third.

Both the big stuff and the little stuff went Lewiston’s way. Jonathan Bernier was solid in goal (go ahead, act surprised). Every tweak of the lineup by Clem Jodoin worked fabulously (returning Marc-Andre Daneau’s veteran presence to the mix after he was a healthy scratch in the opener, for instance).

“When you get the first two games at home, it’s confidence,” said Courcelles, who should know.

He’s said to be the first guy to wrap his sweaty mitts around the Memorial Cup after the Quebec Remparts captured it last season.

Too many pieces in the Quebec puzzle turned 20 in the offseason. Courcelles was trade bait. Saturday night, Quebec’s loss was Lewiston’s gain.

As for one of Shawinigan’s allotted grown-ups, Kevin Cormier, his supposed emergence as a difference-maker Saturday turned out to be sheer gossip.

Anyone arriving early enough to watch the pre-game skate saw Cormier (who actually turned 21 on Jan. 27) spend much of it working both the red line and his vocal cords. After missing Game 1 as the consequence of his match penalty in Shawinigan’s regular-season finale, Cormier appeared to play a game of smack-talk that would make the NFL’s Joey Porter jealous.

So much for the hot air. Conventional wisdom said Saturday’s game would be either a bloodletting or a blowout. It was neither. Cormier’s chief contribution was an interference penalty.

Shawinigan needed a win like Britney Spears needed a normal childhood. Lewiston, a team that has earned the right not to panic, didn’t, and won with panache.

You heard all this from me, not the Maineiacs. They’re treating the Cataractes with the respect that the late Marlon Perkins and Steve Irwin reserved for piranhas.

“They’re tough,” Courcelles insisted. “That’s how this whole series is going to be.”

The Maineiacs believe every word of it, even as they don’t believe one syllable of their own effusive press clippings.

Lewiston is playing a brand of hockey befitting an underdog, not an odds-on favorite, which is why it may win this tournament going away.

“We’re getting a little contribution from everybody,” Piche said. “When you block a shot, it’s a bonus. Every time you sacrifice your body, it’s a privilege for yourself to help the team win.”

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


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