SAINT JOHN, New Brunswick — Stephen MacAuley knows teammate Simon Despres well enough to know exactly what to do when the lumbering defenseman gets a head of steam through the neutral zone: Drive the net.

Despres torched Zach Shannon just inside the Lewiston Maineiacs’ zone, drove to the right post and one-handed a pass toward the net as he fell to the ice. He crashed into the boards, but watched as MacAuley sniffed out the puck and tapped it past Lewiston keeper Nick Champion 2:59 into overtime to lift the Saint John Sea Dogs to a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over the Maineiacs in Game 1 of their best-of-seven semifinal series in front of 5,762 at Harbour Station on Friday.

“(Despres) is a great offensive defenseman. He has the ability to rush with the puck and make a play,” MacAuley said. “I just wanted to go to the far post and drive the net hard and if there was a rebound, I’d put it in. He made a pass right on the tape. All I had to do was put my stick forward.”

MacAuley’s goal, his third of the playoffs, capped a wild third period and overtime that saw a two-goal Lewiston lead evaporate after a disallowed goal and a goalie change.

The game-winner also came less than 30 seconds after Mathieu Corbeil stuffed a Lewiston charge by Michael Chaput and Etienne Brodeur.

“Those big long legs really paid off for him,” Saint John coach Gerard Gallant said. “He made a couple of outstanding saves. That was key. It gave us a chance to come back and win the game.”

The Maineiacs can take solace in the fact that in each of their previous two series victories, they also dropped the first game. Against Montreal in Round 2, that Game 1 loss was also in overtime.

“We can learn from that. We’ve been in this situation before,” Lewiston coach J.F. Houle said. “Hopefully our players realize, it’s not a big deal. It’s only one game and we just have to bounce back the next game.”

Saint John, meanwhile, the top overall team in the Canadian Hockey League and losers of only seven games in regulation all season, realized quickly that the eighth-seeded Maineiacs won’t go away quietly.

“This is a completely different team than we played last in Victoriaville,” Gallant said. “They put a lot more pressure on our defense tonight. They weren’t making the right plays, the forwards weren’t getting open so they could get the puck quick enough. They play a similar style to us, their transition game is very good.”

Like in the first game of the team’s second-round series against Montreal, Lewiston held a two-goal lead after an Antoine Houde-Caron shorthanded goal at 6:02 put Lewiston on top 4-2.

That came 1:42 after another apparent Lewiston goal was waved off due to a high stick. A replay shown on the big screen at the arena appeared to show Jess Tanguy knocking the puck into the cage with his stick just above his waist, but officials upheld the call on the ice.

Saint John waited until the media timeout and made a goaltending change, replacing Jacob DeSerres with Corbeil.

“It was a genius move,” Gallant joked. “To be honest with you, I was frustrated. Nothing against Jake DeSerres. That fourth goal was a great shot. But sometimes you have to pull the goalie anyway. I wasn’t going to pull him right away. I waited until the timeout just so it was casual.”

At 14:28, Nathan Beaulieu blasted a shot past Lewiston keeper Nick Champion to cut the Maineiacs’ lead in half, and 1:14 later, Tomas Jurco intercepted a clearing attempt by Champion and deposited the puck into an empty net to knot the score.

“They came on a little bit, you could feel it,” Houle said. “In the building, there was an electricity, but it was a good game between two good teams tonight. … The tying goal, it was a bad bounce. He came out to play the puck, which is what he should do in that situation, and it hit our guy, then it hit their guy. They were in the right place at the right time.”

Corbeil kicked out a shot by Kirill Kabanov in the final minute of regulation on a Lewiston power play to keep things knotted, and Champion snared an Eric Gelinas shot at the other end in the final seconds.

After missing on a couple of chances early on Lewiston turnovers (and subsequent good recoveries), the Sea Dogs found the back of the net just across the midway point of the first as defenseman Pierre Durepos fired a slap shot from the left point that sailed over Champion’s right shoulder.

On a power play 3:24 later, the home squad added another to push the lead to 2-0 as Stanislav Galiev fed Seven Anthony through traffic for a tap-in in the lower left circle.

“It took a little while to get in the game,” Houle said. “We knew they were going to come out strong. They hadn’t played in a week, and they were playing at home, so we just had to weather the storm.”

After killing another Saint John power play, the Maineiacs picked up a turnover in the center zone. Stefan Fournier raced up the right side on a pass from Michael Chaput, waited as the Saint John defender slid to the ice and fed Matthew Bissonnette for his own tap-in with 42 seconds to play in the opening frame, cutting the Sea Dogs’ lead in half.

“All of a sudden we stopped skating, we stopped doing the right things with the puck and that goal late in the first period really gave them a lot of jump,” Gallant said.

Lewiston carried the momentum into the second frame. A pair of roughing calls at the end of the first forced the teams to begin the second with four skaters apiece. Tanguy finished a rush alongside Pierre-Olivier Morin with his second goal in as many games to knot the game at 2-2.

On Lewiston’s second consecutive power play less than five minutes later, Kabanov gave the Maineiacs a 3-2 lead with his sixth of the postseason on a feed from Michael Chaput at the left post.

The same teams will square off in Game 2 on Saturday at 6 p.m.

“We didn’t come here to lose,” Houle said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow to lose in overtime. But we have a resilient group. We’ll regroup and be ready for tomorrow.”


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