The Lions de Trois-Rivières and the Newfoundland Growlers played the ultimate-stakes game on Tuesday evening. Their best-of-seven first-round series was pushed to the brink in a final confrontation won by the Growlers 5-2 in front of 3,289 fans in attendance in St. John’s, bringing a close to the Lions' inaugural ECHL season.
For this elimination game, head coach Eric Bélanger had to sit Olivier Archambault because of injury, and you would have to think that it’s something that Archambault has been carrying for a while given how his play has dramatically dropped off.
Archambault was replaced in the lineup by Justin Ducharme, and it was Ducharme who had the best chance for the Lions in the first period, accepting a two-on-one pass from Jonathan Joannette, but seeing his shot stopped by Growlers starter Keith Petruzzelli from point-blank range.
The first period up to that point was being played cautiously, with the Lions controlling the play for the most part. However, during that two-on-one after passing the puck, Joannette bodychecked his cover kinda unnecessarily and earned himself a roughing penalty. On the ensuing face-off, the Lions accidentally shot the puck over the boards drawing a delay of game call.
Thankfully the Lions were able to kill a long two-man disadvantage, but it was another case of lost momentum in a sudden-death game. The first period was a low-shot event, with the Growlers only getting four shots on goal, but out of those four one went in as Tyler Boland scored his seventh goal of the series, beating Philippe Desrosiers on a cross-crease pass by Zach O’Brien. The Growlers' dominant pairing of O’Brien and Boland was simply lights out, getting a total of six points in this game and 24 points total in this seven-game series.
The Growlers carried a 1-0 lead into the second period and added to the total when Noel Hoefenmayer scored a goal very similar to Boland’s after sneaking into position to receive a cross-crease pass and avoiding coverage by Fortin.
Thankfully the Lions got a glimmer of hope midway through the second period when a Growler defenceman lost his stick, creating an odd-man scramble in front of Petruzzelli with Joannette and Anthony Nellis taking stabs at the puck that was flung in by Fortin. Nellis converted to reduce the Growlers' lead to one halfway through the game.
ANTHONY NELLLLISSS !!!! Notre #14 ouvre la marque chez les Lions ! 3-1— Lions de Trois-Rivières (@Lions3r) May 3, 2022
ANTHONY NELLLLISSS !!!! Our #14 opens the scoring for the Lions! 3-1 pic.twitter.com/sugWON8C3Y
Any momentum the Lions would hope to carry over from their goal was nullified by a series of penalties that gave the Growlers another two-man power play for a prolonged period. The Lions did manage to kill it again, but the Growlers regained control of the pace of the game as a result.
The book was obviously out on Desrosiers for this game, because Boland’s second goal was — you guessed it — off of a cross-crease pass, giving the Growlers a 3-1 lead two minutes into the third period, which really began to feel like a steep climb for the Lions at this point.
Hayden Shaw brought the game back to a one-goal deficit with ten minutes to go in the third period after a blistering slapshot penetrated between Petruzzelli’s pads thanks to the Lions establishing nice zone control and puck movement on a power play.
HAYYYYYDEN SHAAAAWWWW !! Notre défenseur profite d'un avantage numérique pour réduire l'écart Ce match n'est pas fini ! 3-2— Lions de Trois-Rivières (@Lions3r) May 3, 2022
HAYYYYYDEN SHAAAAWWWW!!! Our defenseman takes advantage of a power play to reduce the gap This game is not over! 3-2 pic.twitter.com/03XzDlwEnz
Unfortunately, the backbreaking goal came a few minutes later off of the stick of defenceman Ben Finkelstein, with a shot that barely squeaked by Desrosiers, to once again give the Growlers a two-goal lead. The weight of the task facing the Lions really became insurmountable after that one.
To their credit, the Lions never gave up, even after pulling Desrosiers for the extra attacker, which backfired for an empty-net goal by the Growlers. The Growlers had the Lions’ number in this final confrontation of the season between these two Canadian ECHL teams. They now move on to the second round to play against the Reading Royals, while the Lions will take a long deep breath after a bonkers inaugural season.