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Rocket vs. Moose series recap: Despite Michael McNiven’s best efforts, Laval gets swept in series with Manitoba

A few bright spots weren’t enough to salvage a series with the Moose.

Club de Hockey Canadien Inc.

Following a 5-2 loss on Friday night to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the Rocket were back in action for a two game set in the frozen tundra of Winnipeg. After Fucale got roughed up against the Phantoms it was Michael McNiven getting the start on Sunday afternoon, though he didn’t fare much better against a red-hot Moose side. Besides McNiven in nets, the biggest change however was Michael McCarron being dropped down the lineup to play with Jeremy Gregoire and Yannick Veilleux on a line struggling with offence.

For the Rocket they jumped out to an instant lead just 33 seconds into the contest, with Michael McCarron setting up Yannick Veilleux for his first goal of the year.

A shot trickled off the crossbar and into the far corner, McCarron beat the Manitoba defenders to it, and threaded a perfect pass across the zone to Veilleux who snapped home his first goal this season.

Mason Appleton answered back late in the first off a great play by Francis Beauvillier. Beauvillier used a burst of speed to get around Jakub Jerabek and then threw a perfect pass onto Appleton’s stick and he tipped it past McNiven to tie the game 1-1.

In the second period, a spot of horrendous luck for the Rocket cost a second goal against, as a wonky bounce led to Michael Spacek’s first goal of the year, and a Manitoba lead. The puck was dumped into the Laval zone, but instead of rimming around the boards like McNiven expected, it bounced straight back in front of his net, and Spacek had an easy tap-in goal.

Laval’s power play struck soon after to tie the game however, with the confident Daniel Carr potting his 11th goal of the year.

Peter Holland took the puck on the half boards, and fired a pass in front to Michael McCarron. From there he would dish off to Carr in the slot who made no mistake in close and rocketed a shot past Michael Hutchinson to knot the game back up.

From there it was all Moose all the time, as they score three unanswered goals over the remainder of the game to bury the Rocket. Mason Appleton and Michael Sgarbossa in particular were pesky thorns in the side of the Rocket in the second period run. First on the power play Sgarbossa carried the puck in uncontested, then found a wide open Appleton who wired a shot past McNiven to make it a 3-2 game. Then while killing another penalty not even two minutes later, Chase de Leo would strike paydirt for the Moose, taking advantage of a floundering Rocket penalty kill.

A shot came in from the point and Sgarbossa swatted at it, and that led to it falling on de Leo’s stick and with no Rocket defenders on him he coolly slotted the puck past McNiven. Then with less than ten seconds left in the period the Moose struck once more, with Buddy Robinson finishing off a pretty passing play and putting the final nail in the coffin on Sunday.

Three Stars

1. Mason Appleton (2G, 1A)

2. Michael McCarron (2A)

3. Patrice Cormier (2A)

After the disappointing loss on Sunday, the Rocket were looking for revenge on Tuesday night as they squared off with the Moose once again. Michael McNiven remained the starter for Laval, while Simon Bourque drew in over Stefan Leblanc on defence.

Unlike Sunday’s contest the goals did not fly early in this game, in fact it was a rather tentative start for both sides. The Rocket broke through first once again though, with more than half the period gone. Matt Taormina, who had been rather quiet on the scoresheet as of late broke in along the boards and carried the puck in deep. As he circled behind the net he picked out an open Antoine Waked at the top of the circle, and the rookie forward made no mistake and notched his second goal of the year.

Less than two minutes later the Rocket power play got a chance to operate once more, thanks to Charles Beaudoin taking an interference penalty. A few dangerous chances, but the Moose held strong and Eric Comrie allowed little to no second chances.

As time wound down in the opening 20 minutes, Michael McCarron was nabbed for a slashing call, sending the Rocket to their first penalty kill of the night, and through the end of the first period they held off the Manitoba attack.

Despite killing off McCarron’s slashing minor the second period saw the Rocket unravel once more in part to a weak penalty kill, and poor defensive zone coverage. Yannick Veilleux took a hooking penalty just past the half way point of the period, and Mike Sgarbossa made him pay for it. Just eight seconds into the ensuing power play he converted a Michael Spacek pass to tie the game. Then just 40 seconds later, Sgarbossa who gave the Moose the lead. A quick cycle at the point led to Peter Stoykewych firing a puck on net, Sgarbossa was left unchecked and re-directed it over McNiven, giving Manitoba the lead.

To the credit of Laval, unlike Sunday’s meeting there was an immediate pushback following Manitoba’s quick goals. Peter Holland was at the centre of this offensive spark too, but not due to his goal-scoring ability. Holland got into a tussle with Mike Sgarbossa near the benches, and Patrice Cormier jumped in and picked up an extra two-minute penalty. On the following power play it Chris Terry did what he does best.

A Taormina shot took a strange bounce, and from there Daniel Carr backhanded the puck over to Terry. Then with all the time in the world, Terry sniped a shot home to tie the game back up once again.

After an offence-heavy two periods, the third period was without a goal, due largely in part to the play of Michael McNiven and Eric Comrie. An early power play tested the Moose, with Terry again looking highly dangerous, but the Manitoba netminder stood tall.

Yet against the onslaught it would be the rookie McNiven who stole the show late in the period with a potential save of the year candidate.

A shot from the point glanced off Matt Taormina’s glove, and right into the lap of one of the AHL’s hottest scorers in Jack Rosolovic. The Moose forward dropped the puck to his stick, then as he went to tap home a surefire goal, he was robbed by the sprawling glove of McNiven.

That save would be instrumental in securing a point for Laval on the night, as it allowed the teams to head to overtime, tied 2-2. From there the Rocket had a half dozen chances to end the game, including a pair of 3 on 1’s where they failed to get a shot on net, a Daniel Audette breakaway which was stopped, and Jakub Jerabek ringing a screamer of a shot off the crossbar.

So the shootout was the only way to solve this game, and despite a strong performance all game McNiven couldn’t stop Brendan Lemieux, and Daniel Carr made one too many moves, and Manitoba collected the extra point.

Laval falls to 9-7-3 on the year,keeping them in third place in the AHL’s North Division. They’ll face off against divisional rival the Utica Comets on Friday and Saturday, where dropping any points is more or less inexcusable.

Three Stars

1. Mike Sgarbossa (2G)

2. Cameron Schilling (1A)

3. Michael McNiven (34 Saves)