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Laval vs. Binghamton recap & highlights: Michael McNiven shows no sympathy for the Devils

Laval’s rookie goalie was the star in a 3-1 win on Saturday night.

Michael McNiven guards the goal for the Laval Rocket
Michael McNiven guards the goal for the Laval Rocket
Lehigh Valley Phantoms

After falling flat versus the rival Toronto Marlies and the Utica Comets earlier in the week, the Laval Rocket were back in action on Saturday night against another North Division foe.

The Binghamton Devils were coming off a lopsided 6-1 victory over the Belleville Senators, with Eddie Lack locking things down in net. Lack would again be between the pipes for the Devils, while the Rocket got a sizable boost with Michael McCarron back in the lineup, having not sustained a concussion against Utica, as originally believed. The rookie Michael McNiven got the start for Laval, looking to give his team a solid outing to end a rough week.

It was a fast start for the Rocket, something the team needed after they struggled to beat the Comets the night before. Jordan Boucher broke in on the left wing, and with all the time in the world sniped a puck past Lack to give Laval a 1-0 lead just 2:09 into the contest.

A Nikita Scherbak high-sticking call sent the Devils to the power play, putting the AHL’s worst penalty kill on the ice. McNiven stood on his head, and continued to do so after the penalty was over. Through the opening 10 minutes, the rookie netminder faced anbarrage of shots, and stopped all of them.

A pair of Devils penalties in rapid succession gave the Rocket a 5-on-3, but it didn’t yield a goal as Laval squandered a golden chance to cement a narrow lead with an early insurance goal.

It was the Devils pushing in the aftermath of their successful penalty kill, but McNiven stood tall as the horn blew to end the period, having stopped all 15 shots against.

The Rocket nearly doubled their lead around the two-minute mark of the second period as well, with Kyle Baun getting behind the defence and cutting around the front of the net. Lack kicked his pad out, and took away the potential goal.

The Devils failed to bother McNiven at all in his own end over the course of the second period, managing just four shots on net in the 20 minutes. Laval took over on the shot clock, posting 13 shots of their own, and snuffed out any sort of Devils attack.

Adam Cracknell and Tim Kennedy were whistled for off-setting slashing minors.. After coming out of the box, Cracknell immediately made up for his penalty. He carried the puck into the zone, blowing past Brian Strait and with a flick of his stick, backhanded a perfect shot over Lack for his 10th goal of the year.

The third period belonged to McNiven once more, as he faced down a heavy Devils onslaught and performed more than admirably. He made 17 saves on 18 shots, including a potential save of the year candidate to preserve his shutout late in the game.

Ben Thomson wrapped around the Rocket net, and when he got to the front the puck flipped up in the air, and over McNiven. As McNiven turns to find the puck, two Rocket defenders and a handful of Devils forwards crash the net. Amid all the chaos behind him, McNiven coolly trapped the puck to the ice, and swept it to his pad, keeping it from crossing the line as players piled onto his back.

A lengthy chat at the scorer’s box confirmed what the replay showed: somehow, McNiven had robbed the Devils of a crucial goal late in the game.

Unfortunately, the shutout bid for McNiven came to an end with 3:31 left on the clock, as Blake Pietila pounced on a rebound and slotted a hard-earned goal home for Binghamton.

A quick rush right after by the Devils forced Simon Bourque to take an ill-timed penalty, sending his side to the penalty kill late with the game on the line. The Rocket skaters came up huge to end the game, with Daniel Audette sealing the win with an empty-net goal in the dying seconds, and stopping the Rocket’s losing skid at two games.

Laval is now off until January 10th, when they return back to Place Bell for a showdown with the Utica Comets, followed by a pair of games on the 12th and 13th against Hartford and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

Three Stars

1. Adam Cracknell (1G)

2. Blake Pietila (1G)

3. Jordan Boucher (1G)