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Lions Bites: Hunting for a playoff berth

An almost-perfect week brings the Lions ever so close to the postseason.

Cincinnati Cyclones

It was the penultimate week of the regular season, and the Lions de Trois-Rivières were in the thick of the hunt for a playoff berth in the North Division. For the TL;DR crowd, the Lions started in fifth place this week, but thanks to a solid haul of five out of six points, they landed in third place in a tight race with the Worcester Railers and the Maine Mariners. They will only need four points out of a possible eight next week to qualify for the playoffs.

Player Movement

As the Laval Rocket continues to get healthy, the Lions continue to reap the benefits. This week the Rocket loaned Justin Ducharme back to the Lions, but the big surprise was that the Montreal Canadiens re-assigned defenceman Josh Brook to the Lions as he tries to get his season back on track following knee surgery in the off-season.

William Leblanc has gone back on the Injured Reserve after being on the receiving end of another headshot during the first Railers game this week. The team hopes that he will be ready to start the playoffs.

Olivier Archambault and Tim Vanstone are also nursing minor injuries that kept them out of a few games last week.

Wednesday night, Lions win 4-2 against the Cincinnati Cyclones

Those familiar with more obscure Canadiens lore know that the Cincinnati Cyclones were the ECHL affiliation of the Canadiens from 2006-10, a shared affiliate with the Nashville Predators. The Cyclones won the Kelly Cup twice during this time, once in 2008 and again in 2010. The 2008 edition was led by ECHL MVP David Desharnais, by far the most successful prospect to make his way from the ECHL to the Canadiens’ roster.

Although, I don’t know if the Lions felt any sort of nostalgia facing off against a cousin they never knew they had. After a scoreless first period, Luke Orysiuk lasered a perfect pass to Alexandre Fortin who broke in alone and made no mistake a minute into the second period.

Ducharme then marked his return to the lineup with a seeing-eye shot that somehow found a way through Sean Bonar who had all the angles covered, and yet...

The Cyclones got one back shortly afterward, and both teams lined up for an intense third period, as the one-goal lead felt incredibly fragile. The Lions were doing everything in their power but you could feel the Cyclones slowly building up their mana for a big finish to the game. It was the fast-moving Anthony Nellis who cut a path to the front of the net, batted down a lobbed puck with his hand, and tapped it into the net to give the Lions a hard-fought two-goal lead and a bit of breathing room.

Both teams exchanged goals before the end, with Alexis D’Aoust scoring an empty netter, but it really felt like the Nellis goal was a turning point for the Lions in their quest for a playoff spot.

Friday night, Lions win 6-0 in Worcester

The Lions were playing a critical two-game road trip against the Railers, who they were competing against for a playoff spot. The Lions were all over the Railers in the first period, and the Railers did not help themselves either, taking three straight penalties. Archambault managed to break the ice in the 17th minute, converting on a rebound to give the Lions a lead they would never surrender.

The Railers fought hard in the second period, but to no avail, as Philippe Desrosiers was solid in goal for the Lions. Halfway through the second, Cedric Montminy gave the Lions a two-goal lead, but it was Brook’s first goal in his first game that really took the wind out of the Railers' sails.

The Lions kept piling it on, with Nellis scoring 17 seconds into the third period, then Archambault getting his second of the game, and finally Nellis scoring once more to close out an emphatic win.

Saturday night, Lions lose 3-2 to Worcester in overtime

The Lions were riding a three-game win streak into the game, and the team had all the momentum behind it, but Worchester was intent on erasing the memory of the previous night’s rout.

The Railers came out hard in the first period, dominating the early portion, but Arturs Silovs held the fort strong. In fact, Silovs had a brilliant game for the Lions. For the third game in a row, it was the Lions who scored first. To think they struggled mightily in that department leading up a few weeks ago. It was a returning-from-suspension Mathieu Gagnon who said his mea culpas with the opening goal.

The Lions started the second period on the penalty kill, but it didn’t stop them from seizing an opportunity on a break. Another returning player, this time from injury, Tim Vanstone sniped a shorthanded goal past Ken Appleby to give the Lions a 2-0 lead.

The Lions got into big-time penalty problems midway into the third period, when first Julien Nantel got called for delay of game by putting the puck over the glass, then instantly off the face-off Brook got called for high-sticking, which gave the Railers nearly two minutes on a two-man powerplay. Silovs made some great-looking saves and the Lions killed off both penalties, but the momentum swung the Railers' way as the Lions seemed to lose all their energy. The Railers went on to score two quick goals within 62 seconds to tie the game up.

A late-period powerplay was unsuccessful for the Lions, and that lost opportunity cost them as the Railers quickly scored in overtime to take the game. The Lions had this game in the bag, but they couldn’t close the deal. But still, that’s one point closer to the postseason.

Player of the Week

  • Anthony Nellis (3 goals, 3 assists, 6 points)
  • Alexis D’Aoust (1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points)
  • Justin Ducharme (1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points)
  • Alexandre Fortin (1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points)

What’s Next

It’s the final throes of a long season for the Lions de Trois-Rivières. With four home games left in the final week of the season, the Lions are four points away from qualifying for the playoffs so they only need to win a couple of games.

On Tuesday the Lions play the last-place Adirondack Thunder, and then it’s three games against the Worcester Railers, on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.

After that, the playoff rosters are due on Monday, April 18th, and the first playoff game could be on the road on Wednesday, April 20th. But I am getting ahead of myself.