LEWISTON — As big as Tuesday’s game against the Montreal Junior could have been for the Lewiston Maineiacs, a series of games as important as the team will play all season presents itself this weekend.

Telus East Division-leading Quebec rolls into town for a pair of games on back-to-back nights Friday and Saturday in a two-game set that could ultimately determine whether the Maineiacs have a shot to sneak up on the Remparts and challenge for a division crown that three weeks ago appeared unattainable.

“They’re one of the best teams in our league,” Lewiston coach J.F. Houle said. “We’re excited and it should be fun. It’s a good atmosphere; it’s fun to play in. We’re close in the standings, so it should be pretty interesting.”

Close is relative. The Remparts are actually a healthy seven points ahead of Lewiston with a game in hand. Quebec has 15 games remaining; Lewiston has 14.

But with a weekend sweep against their division rivals, the Maineiacs would close the gap in the division to three points.

“We like to think one game at a time, but these games, they’re big games,” Houle said. “We have a chance to close the gap, get a little closer, and anything can happen the rest of the year and it puts doubt in their minds. But one game at a time, and the hard work will be the key.”

In four games head to head this season, the teams are knotted at two wins each. The Remparts embarrassed the Maineiacs with several key players missing in a 12-3 romp in Quebec in September. Lewiston won a pair of 4-3 games in the next two meetings before Quebec dropped Lewiston 4-2 in the teams’ most recent contest back on Nov. 21.

“It’s important to use our speed in a game like that,” Houle said. “They can move the puck, they’re physical, and they’re a team that, hard work is key against that team. The times we beat them, we outworked them.”

The Remparts are just 4-4-0 in their past eight games, though they’ve scored 16 goals in winning to of their past three. The loss in that stretch? A 1-0 thriller to Montreal.

The Maineiacs will get some reinforcements this weekend as they welcome back to the lineup defensemen Sam Finn and Olivier Dame-Malka, both fresh off three-game suspensions for separate incidents in a game against Rimouski two weeks back.

“It’s a huge plus to get those guys back,” Houle said. “It’s tough to play without them. They’re both good players, they log a lot of minutes for us, and it’s nice to have them back.”

Lewiston went 2-1 in those three games, winning contests against Shawinigan and Cape Breton before dropping their most recent game against Montreal.

But with good news comes some not-so-good news. Forward Sam Henley will miss “a couple of weeks” with an upper-body injury, and stalwart defenseman Sam Carrier, a former Rempart and a Washington Capitals’ draft pick, is dinged up, and may miss one or both games this weekend.

“Carrier is day-to-day, so we’ll have to see, but he plays well against Quebec,” Houle said. “Last year and this year, he’s always a key guy against that team, so we’ll see if he can go this weekend.”

Carrier does bring his ‘A’ game against his former club. This year, he has two goals, four shots on goal and a fighting major against his former squad. In 2009-10, Carrier had a goal and four assists, 13 penalty minutes and was a plus-5 against the Remparts.

“Henley, we’ll miss a couple weeks, though, and he’s a key piece, but he’ll be back in a short time,” Houle said.

For the first time since Jan. 30, a span of three games, Lewiston will go with 20-year-old veteran Nick Champion between the pipes. Andrey Makarov played well, collecting a shutout in his second of three consecutive starts. But he was shelled for four goals on 19 shots in the opening period Tuesday in Montreal, and Champion pitched a shutout over the final two frames in that contest.

“Champion’s going to be starting (Friday), and we take it one game at a time with then, so we’ll see who’s starting Saturday,” Houle said.

Both games are scheduled for a 7 p.m. faceoff at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee.


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