The Laval Rocket managed to snap a seven-game losing streak by beating the Lehigh Valley Phantoms 4-3 in overtime, thanks to a nail-biting third period comeback in front of a sold-out crowd of 8,512 at the PPL Center.
The Rocket, already thin on players due to call-ups to the Montreal Canadiens, lost Michael McCarron the night before after he got cut around the ear in a game against the Syracuse Crunch. This required some shuffling of the lines for the Rocket, who were missing seven forwards who had started the season on the club.
Newcomer Adam Cracknell found himself centring the second line as a result, and he ended up being the difference-maker for the club, scoring two goals, including the game-winner.
It was the fourth match of a six-game homestand for the Phantoms, who are staying strong at home despite a roster turnover of their own. In addition to Mark Alt being recalled to the Philadelphia Flyers, five other regulars were out of the line-up, including Samuel Morin, Philippe Myers, Frank Hora, Reece Willcox, and Maxim Lamarche. The Phantoms turned to the Reading Royals of the ECHL for help, calling up Adam Comrie and Nick Luukko.
One the main points discussed at a Rocket team meeting in the morning was to not give up the first goal, as head coach Sylvain Lefebvre emphasized avoiding playing catch-up hockey.
Unfortunately things did not go as planned for them, as the Phantoms scored a mere 1:25 into the first period, getting one past Rocket starter Michael McNiven. Matt Read got the credit for the goal, as an aggressive forecheck pressured Noah Juulsen and Tom Parisi to fumble with the puck, and eventually Juulsen put it past his own netminder in a moment of panic.
As it was the Teddy Bear Toss night for the Phantoms, the teams took a break while a shower of plush cuteness rained down on the ice.
There's always that one guy who has to take it a step further. Even at a teddy bear toss. pic.twitter.com/qGv8biQheL— Andrew Zadarnowski (@AZadarski) December 3, 2017
Getting the teddy bear toss out of the way early might actually have been a good thing for the Rocket as they had a chance to regroup. They controlled the rest of the period for the most part, although it was a tightly contested defensive affair.
The Rocket only managed nine shots in the first to the Phantoms’ seven, with the best chance coming when Jeremy Grégoire found himself alone in front of Dustin Tokarski, but wasn’t able to beat the former Canadiens backup goaltender. The period ended 1-0, and the game definitely appeared to be far from over despite the early goal.
The second period was a lot more busy for both goalies. McNiven made a big save early on in the period on a short-handed breakaway, doing his part to keep the score within one.
It was a crucial stop for the Rocket, as the new top line of Chris Terry, Daniel Audette, and Markus Eisenschmid fought to get the puck out of the Rocket zone, scrambling the puck past a Phantom defender who couldn’t handle Eisenschmid’s short lob out of the zone. The puck then dropped on Terry’s stick who suddenly found himself in a two-on-one situation, passing it to Audette who made no mistake, burying it past Tokarski to level the game at one.
About seven minutes later however the Phantoms regained the lead, transitioning the puck rapidly out of their zone, and breaking into the Rocket end with speed, giving the visitors no time to set up a defensive structure. Nicolas Aube-Kubel dropped a little pass to Greg Carey, who wired a slapshot from the point that McNiven just got a piece of with his glove but couldn’t snag, as the puck still had just enough momentum to make it into the net.
The score was 2-1 for the Phantoms at the end of the second, who played a strong period. Out of their 11 shots, 10 were deemed scoring chances.
The Phantoms made it a two-goal lead 15 minutes into the third period when Corban Knight cleaned up the garbage in front of the net.
It could have been the death blow for the Rocket, but newcomer Adam Cracknell scored a minute later to keep hope alive for the Rocket.
AHL gif time!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 3, 2017
Adam Cracknell gets his first in a Rocket uniform pic.twitter.com/gnhIVCxKCw
With only a one-goal deficit, the Rocket continued to press into the final seconds of the third, pulling McNiven for an extra attacker. A sustained presence in the Phantoms zone culminated with a shot from the point from Matt Taormina that deflected off of Grégoire’s leg and beat Tokarski with only 10 seconds left in the game to send the teams into overtime.
9.4 on the clock, Matt Taormina lets a shot fly, Jeremy Gregoire deflects it home off his leg to tie the game pic.twitter.com/SYFQZxrMoB— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 3, 2017
In overtime the Rocket continued riding a wave of momentum, determined not to return back to Laval without having broken their slump. Once again it was newcomer Cracknell who provided the offensive finish, adding his second goal of the game off a two-on-one break with Chris Terry, lifting a tremendous pressure off of the shoulders of the entire team.
Adam Cracknell gets the OT winner, not bad for his first day as Laval Rocket player pic.twitter.com/IbfElc0r6Q— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 3, 2017
Despite the noted absence of many regulars, the Rocket dominated in shots with 35 against the Phantoms 26 in the end, toppling the Phantoms not through stand-out talent, but relentless work ethic.
Laval will play a three-game homestand next week, with one game against the Belleville Senators on Wednesday, and then two games against the powerful Toronto Marlies on Friday and Saturday, which is when Laval’s own Teddy Bear Toss will happen.