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Lions force a Game 7 with a dominant win in Newfoundland

A convincing win sends the series to the limit.

Peter Abbandonato
Lions de Trois-Rivières

The first-round playoff series between the Lions de Trois-Rivières and the Newfoundland Growlers returned to St. John’s on Monday afternoon, as the Lions were able to take two of three games at the Colisée Vidétron. This was the 20th meeting of the season between the two teams, perhaps the best one the Lions played against their familiar foe, and it couldn’t come at a better time.

The Lions controlled the puck from the opening faceoff for a full minute, and on the first shot of the game, Cédric Montminy came streaking off the bench on a line change into the slot, received a pass from behind the net from, and beat Keith Petruzzelli with a perfect wristshot.

The danger in this series has been response goals that come moments after the initial goal, and it almost happened here, as the Growlers’ leading scorer, Zach O’Brien, came in on a breakaway, but he was stopped by Philippe Desrosiers, who made several important saves in quick succession as the Growlers settled down and started taking control of the period with a heavy forecheck and speed. They would eventually tie the game five minutes into the first period.

After scoring on their first shot of the game, Trois-Rivières held on for dear life for the remainder of the period as the Growlers outshot them 14-4.

If the Growlers were hoping to carry on the momentum, it was stopped by a penalty early in the second, allowing the Lions to challenge the league-leading penalty kill. Alexandre Fortin had a great chance, but Petruzzelli made a big pad save.

The important thing here was that the Lions established control, and after a few more shifts of possession, Peter Abbandonato scored an easy goal when the Growlers’ defence collapsed and Petruzzelli was lying on his stomach in the crease.

The Growlers continued to play rough, and after an icing call, the Lions won the faceoff and scored a second goal in 24 seconds, when Branden Locke converted on a loose puck that was pushed ahead by Hayden Shaw to give the Lions a sudden two-goal lead.

The Growlers continued to struggle, taking a third straight penalty, giving the Lions an opportunity again. Desrosiers tried to go for the long pass after a Growlers clearing, but he put the puck right on Derian Plouffe’s stick, who had an empty net and all the time in the world to bring the Growlers within one with a short-handed goal.

The Lions got bad news when Peter Abbandonato was down on the ice behind the play as the goal was scored and needed to be carried off the ice in a lot of pain. Although the cameras never caught what had happened, one can assume, as it is a pattern of behaviour by the Growlers, starting in this series with Shawn St-Amant being knocked out of the series in Game 4 with a headshot behind the play.

Bradley Johnson returned the favour on a Growlers zone entry into Lions territory, which earned him a double minor for a headshot, and the Growlers immediately followed up the ensuing faceoff with the equalizer to bring both team to a tie at 3.

There was a mad flurry of back-and-forth opportunities to close out the second period, but ultimately the Lions came out on top as Alexandre Fortin avoided a check and passed the puck to Olivier Galipeau who was trailing the play, and managed to position himself unencumbered in the high slot for the go-ahead goal with 30 seconds left in the period.

The Lions took the lead into the third and did not take their foot off of the gas pedal. Anthony Nellis scored early, completely killing the home crowd’s energy, and putting the visitors up 5-3.

Brenden Locke added a second goal on the night after Petruzzelli botched a play with the puck to allow the Lions to establish themselves in the Growlers’ end.

Newfoundland scored a second power-play goal in the game, but Josh Brook answered into an empty net from his own crease to give the Lions a convincing 7-4 win, sending the series to a Game 7 on Tuesday night.

The Lions scored within the first two minutes of period one and three, and within four minutes of period two. It is without a doubt their most complete game, starting each period ready to play.

On the flipside, the Growlers may be feeling the pressure. Captain James Melindy was a healthy scratch for the Growlers, and you wonder whether the team is not falling apart at the seams in the face of the surprising Lions resilience and determination.

On Saturday we learned that Julien Nantel left the Lions mid-playoffs. Matthew Vachon of the Nouvelliste spoke with him, and essentially it was as a result of being a scratch for the three games in Trois-Rivières, and deciding that he was going to retire anyway, so he didn’t want to go through the playoffs with a small role. He has a job waiting for him in the private sector. Due to the ECHL rules, the Lions cannot replace Nantel on their playoff roster.