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Laval vs. Manitoba recap & highlights: Rocket soundly beaten by high-flying Moose

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Laval limps into the All-Star break after a pair of losses to one of the AHL’s best clubs.

Club de Hockey Canadien Inc.

The Laval Rocket were back on the ice Saturday night in their last game before the AHL All-Star break, and opposite them was last night’s opponent, the Manitoba Moose. Laval fell by a 4-1 score on Friday, with the Rocket coming close to making a game of it late before an empty-net goal sealed the affair for the Moose.

In net for the Rocket on Saturday night was the rookie Michael McNiven, while the Moose opted to go with Michael Hutchinson after Eric Comrie stymied the Rocket the night before.

The game got off on the right foot for Laval, as they drew a hooking penalty just 1:39 into the game to get a chance to put a dangerous Manitoba team on its heels early. Instead, things blew up directly in their face when Charles-David Beaudoin turned and fired a shot toward McNiven and Brendan Lemieux redirected it, giving the Moose a 1-0 lead with the short-handed goal.

It looked like they had doubled their lead less than two minutes later when rookie sensation Mason Appleton flew into the Rocket zone and got a shot on McNiven, but in the process wiped out the Laval netminder as the puck trickled in. The officials immediately waved the goal off, then sent Appleton to the box for goaltender interference.

The man advantage had plenty of good looks, but couldn’t convert before Jordan Boucher was whistled for hooking, cancelling out the power play.

In a continuing theme of the period, penalties played a major factor, and Jansen Harkins sat for a roughing mino, giving Laval all the momentum they needed to tie the game. Chris Terry fed a puck over to Matt Taormina who dished it off to Nikita Scherbak. The Russian took a brief moment before passing it back to Taormina, who wired a shot on net. It was tipped at the last second by Adam Cracknell, his 18th goal of the year.

An already physical affair boiled over late in the first period when Buddy Robinson broke in offside but still fired a backhand shot on McNiven. Scherbak, McCarron and Noah Juulsen all took offence, kicking off a scrum that saw four roughing minors handed out, in addition to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for Robinson.

Much like the opening 20 minutes, the play in the second period was heavily dictated by special teams, once again not in any sort of favour for the Rocket.

Under five minutes into the period, Lemieux got in behind the defence, forcing Taormina to hack away at him and take a slashing penalty in the process. On the ensuing power play, Samuel Niku fed a pass to Michael Spacek, who in turn fired a perfect slap-pass onto the stick of Appleton, who directed it past McNiven to give the Moose the lead once more.

Manitoba wasn’t done. Despite the disparity in shots at this point of the game — in Laval’s favour — it was the Moose who seemed to be closing in on another goal.

Nic Petan, who on Friday night had a highlight-reel assist, torched the Rocket defence once more to make it a 3-1 game. Patrice Cormier got the puck to Petan who ducked and weaved his way through the Laval defenders before sliding a pass over to Appleton who tapped home the easiest goal of his career.

Things again boiled over in the waning minutes of the middle frame as J.C. Lipon and Stefan LeBlanc got tied up in a battle for a loose puck. For entirely unknown reasons, Brett Lernout and Lemieux rushed in and the Moose player immediately started throwing fists at Rocket defender, who responded in kind. When all was said and done, Lemieux received a 10-minute misconduct for instigating in addition to his five-minute fighting major.

Trailing by two goals heading into the final period, the Rocket didn’t do much to help their chances at a comeback. Less than five minutes in Lipon took the puck through the neutral zone and into the Rocket’s defensive third, with just Leblanc back on defence. Leblanc froze, and gave Lipon an eternity to pick his shot, and he did just that, sniping his ninth goal of the year over McNiven.

The Rocket wouldn’t threaten until it was far too late in the game. Appleton and Spacek took a high-sticking penalties in the final five minutes, and while the Moose were able to kill off the first penalty, their second attempt didn’t go as planned.

The duo of Terry and Scherbak were back at it again, with Scherbak taking a Taormina feed and threading a perfect one-timer setup to Terry, who buried his 20th goal of the year.

Cormier secured the 5-2 victory with a late empty-net goal, sending Laval into the All-Star break on a low note, 12 points out of a playoff spot.

The Rocket won’t be in action until Saturday, February 3 when they meet the North Division-leading Toronto Marlies at Ricoh Coliseum.

Three Stars

1. Mason Appleton (2 Goals)

2. Michael Spacek (1 Assist)

3. Brendan Lemieux (1 Goal)