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Rocket vs. Thunderbirds recap: Laval squanders three-goal lead in defeat to Springfield

Familiar woes spoiled Michael McNiven’s first AHL start.

Club de Hockey Canadien Inc.

Following a sweep the previous weekend over their North Division rivals, the Syracuse Crunch, the Laval Rocket were back in action on the road.

The Rocket rolled into a pair of meetings with the Atlantic Division’s Springfield Thunderbirds and Hartford Wolf Pack. Minus their two top goalies, rookie Michael McNiven was left to shoulder the load in net.

A returning Michael McCarron and a healthy Chris Terry also helped boost a Rocket team that was already flying high in the previous week.

Facing off with Springfield on Saturday night, the Rocket were poised to continue their hot streak, especially when facing a team that had all of two wins on the season.

While the game started nearly perfectly for the Rocket, by the end it would be a major disappointment from Sylvain Lefebvre’s squad.

It didn’t take long for the Rocket to provide a test for McNiven, as Thomas Ebbing took a high-sticking call, forcing Laval to the penalty kill less than three minutes into the game. Thankfully, the young netminder was up to the task on not only the man disadvantage, but the entire first period, turning away all 13 shots he faced.

The slow start to the period was entirely forgotten in the final three minutes as the Rocket reeled off back-to-back-to-back goals to seemingly bury the Thunderbirds.

First up was Terry — on the power play, naturally — with the assists going to Matt Taormina and McCarron. McCarron collected the puck on the wall, and dished it back to Taormina at the point. The blue-liner fed it over to Terry, who made no mistake as he wired his seventh goal of the campaign past Samuel Montembeault for a 1-0 lead.

A little over 30 seconds later, the Rocket would double their lead on a nifty tip play by Jeremy Grégoire. Jakub Jerabek fed Tom Parisi, who let a shot fly on net. Grégoire displayed a pair of soft hands and tipped it in for the second goal of the period.

With 29 seconds left in the opening period, it was the red-hot Peter Holland who added the final Rocket goal. Niki Petti passed the puck off to Chris Terry in the offensive zone, who then picked out Holland who was all alone in the slot. Holland added a small deke, and slid the puck five hole on Montembeault for a 3-0 lead, which seemed like a reasonable cushion.

Unfortunately for the Rocket, their luck ran out badly in the middle period, as they blew a 3-0 lead before it was over, and wasted what looked to be a quality start from McNiven.

Mikkel Aagaard scored two minutes into the period to spoil the shutout. It was mostly uneventful for the next several minutes, until McCarron and Ed Wittchow had a meeting of the fists. Wittchow got the absolute worst of it, as McCarron landed one haymaker and dropped the Thunderbirds player in a one-sided affair.

With their top defensive centre in the box, the Rocket fell apart badly to end the period. Denis Malgin scored just past the 14-minute mark to cut further into the Rocket lead. Then the Rocket’s poor discipline and lacking penalty kill would undo all the hard work from the first period. Daniel Audette took a slashing penalty with 3:19 left in the period, and with 2:53 on the clock, Chase Balisy tied the game 3-3 to sit Laval back on their heels.

The start of the third period wasn’t much better for the Rocket or McNiven. Just 37 seconds in, the comeback was complete as Curtis Valk made it a 4-3 game for Springfield. Former IceCap Bobby Farnham picked out Alexandre Grenier, and he found Valk, who had slid in behind Brett Lernout and put the Thunderbirds in the lead.

After Sylvain Lefebvre’s challenge of the goal was unsuccessful, the Thunderbirds were given a power play, and would strike again to put the game out of reach.

According to the league after the game, the penalty given to the Rocket that led to the eventual game-winning goal should not have been given at all.

The Rocket struggled mightily at even strength and wouldn’t mount much of a comeback until the dying moments of the game. Even with a power play in the middle of the frame, and one of the AHL’s best man-advantage units, they could not solve Montembeault. It wouldn’t be until the last minute of play when Daniel Carr converted a Holland feed into his eighth goal of the year, that the Rocket would be remotely close to tying it back up.

A Valk empty-net goal with four seconds left ended the game with a final score of 6-4 in favour of Springfield.

McNiven made 26 saves on 31 shots against, and his strong play was undone by a poor penalty-kill showing once again.

The Rocket will be back in action tomorrow at 5:00 PM EST against the Hartford Wolf Pack.

Three Stars

1. Dennis Malgin (2G)

2. Curtis Valk (2G)

3. Chase Balisy (1G, 1A)