A busy week continued on Friday night as the Laval Rocket took the ice at home against a stout Lehigh Valley side. The Rocket were coming off back-to-back wins over the Hartford Wolf Pack and Utica Comets, while the Phantoms had dropped a pair of games to Hershey and Belleville.
Both the Rocket and the Phantoms sported nearly identical records, with nine wins, five losses, and a pair of overtime/shootout losses on the season.
Starting in net was Zachary Fucale who had been returned to Laval after Montreal added Antti Niemi to the roster. For the Phantoms, former Habs backup and playoff darling Dustin Tokarski started after coming in for Alex Lyon in their loss to the Senators.
Laval got off to an extremely fast start in this game, with a goal coming just two-and-a-half minutes into the game. Kyle Baun got the puck in deep, and Jordan Boucher fed it back to the point where Eric Gelinas uncorked a rocket of a shot on net. The puck then took a weird bounce up in the air, and over Tokarski, trickling into the net as Boucher attempted to swat it home.
Big shot by Eric Gelinas goes up and over Dustin Tokarski, Rocket up 1-0!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 18, 2017
Jordan Boucher may end up getting credit for this however pic.twitter.com/rT2JXtbUfD
Laval seemed to have things going in their favour until Chris Terry was dinged for a slashing penalty. The Phantoms set up on their power play, Phil Varone passed the puck below the goal line to Colin McDonald, who picked out Mikhail Vorobyev. From a sharp angle, Vorobyev snuck his shot by Fucale and tied the game just past the midway point of the period.
Less than two minutes later the Phantoms would strike again, this time with rookie Mike Vecchione doing the damage. Samuel Morin let a big slapshot fly from the point, and Fucale kicked a rebound out into the slot. From there Vecchione scooped the puck up and coolly backhanded it into the yawning cage for a Lehigh Valley lead.
The Rocket got a late chance with Danick Martel taking a penalty withjust seconds remaining in the opening period. Despite not scoring in the first, the penalty would carry over into the middle frame.
Unfortunately for the Rocket, they were not able to capitalize on the abbreviated man advantage to start the period. Then as their power play ended, Brett Lernout had a blocked shot turn the opposite way on him, and in response to the potential breakaway in his own end, Lernout took a hooking penalty.
The penalty kill once more was not able to turn away the Phantom attack, and saw the deficit grow to two goals. Chris Conner was given ample space to skate into the Laval zone with the puck, dished back to Vecchione, and the former Union star doubled his goal total on the night.
The Rocket had plenty of chances to climb back in the game in the second period, including a pair of power plays that they either cut short themselves, or didn’t convert on.
Nicolas Aube-Kubel was called for slashing, and just as the man advantage began to click for Laval, Reece Willcox gave Michael McCarron a nudge and the behemoth forward flattened Tokarski in his crease. This cancelled out the power play, and gave Lehigh Valley several good looks at four-on-four for the next few minutes, which Fucale was up to the task to stop.
A Phillip Myers tripping call gave the Rocket one more good look at trying to solve Tokarski, and despite some solid cycle play, very few clean shots made their way to the net, as the power play continues its recent struggles after being red-hot to start the year.
It was in the final period where everything came fully unraveled for Laval, both on the scoreboard, and in terms of composure to end the game.
In a trend that struck all night, the Phantoms capitalized on yet another failure on the man advantage by Laval. Varone was given a mile of open ice by Eric Gelinas heading into the the Rocket zone, and, when left uncontested, ripped a shot past Fucale to make it a 4-1 contest.
Varone makes it 4-1 Phantoms pic.twitter.com/eXc7Ch82IZ— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 18, 2017
Laval finally broke through just past the halfway point of the period, with McCarron making an incredible play while falling to the ice. As he fell he directed a shot towards the net which Yannick Veilleux swatted in front to Jeremy Grégoire, who finished with a beautiful backhand.
What a play by McCarron to get the puck to the net while falling down.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 18, 2017
Gregoire finishes to make it 4-2. pic.twitter.com/xWQWOXBXCB
That was as close as Laval would get in the final period, as they pulled Fucale from his net with under three minutes left on the clock. With the cage empty, the Phantoms broke in and forced Grégoire into taking a hooking penalty to prevent an easy goal.
From there things got ugly in every sense of the word, including a likely suspension for McCarron. A puck came in on Tokarski with roughly a minute remaining in the game, and Daniel Carr crashed in on net and held up as the puck was frozen. He was then given a shove in the back by a Phantoms defender, and Carr got his pound of flesh by shoving him, and the goaltender, sparking a scrum that ended with Tokarski being horsecollared by a referee to prevent further escalation.
Tempers flare in the final minute of the Rocket/Phantoms game pic.twitter.com/y2WT78sYEh— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 18, 2017
With 30 seconds left on the clock, Samuel Morin gave McCarron a passing shot by the net, which the Rocket forward took exception to. The towering players squared off in a lengthy grappling match before being sent off the ice by the officials. Phil Varone added another goal to make it 5-2 and send Laval to the locker room with their heads low.
For McCarron, he now faces a likely suspension from the AHL due to the league’s new fighting rules.
Rule 46.22- A player who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation in the final five (5) minutes of regulation time or at any time in overtime, shall automatically be suspended for one game.
Given the nature of how the fight came about, it’s almost a forgone conclusion that the Rocket will be without McCarron this Sunday.
The Rocket move to 9-6-2 on the year, and will meet the red-hot Manitoba Moose in Winnipeg on Sunday at 3:00 PM ET in the first of a two-game series.
1. Mike Vecchione (2G, 1A)
2. Phillip Myers (1A)
3. Jeremy Grégoire (1G)