After the previous night’s highly emotional 4-2 win, the Laval Rocket and Charlotte Checkers squared off once more at Place Bell. After a game that had multiple fights, incredible goaltending from call-up Connor LaCouvee, and highlight-reel goals, an encore of that showing would not be an easy task. Etienne Marcoux was back between the pipes for Joél Bouchard’s club, and opposite of him was Scott Darling, who was looking to work his game out with Carolina’s minor-league club.
Still missing were Byron Froese and Noah Juulsen, but the sudden rise of Michael McCarron and Daniel Audette on the offensive side of the puck has helped to ease their absence.
Right off the bat, the Rocket exploded out of the gate, with Cale Fleury bursting into the offensive zone with speed, and nearly beating Darling in the opening 20 seconds. The Checkers responded, taking the game to their level, playing with timely physicality and long stretches of possession.
In spite of that, Laval would be the team to strike first, and they did so in rapid and impressive fashion. Nikita Jevpalovs struck first for the Rocket, wiring home his seventh goal of the year. The Latvian collected the loose puck after a collision behind Darling’s net, then walked out of the corner uncontested to rifle one into the upper corner of the net.
Nikita Jevpalovs walks out of the corner, and snipes his seventh of the year on Scott Darling. pic.twitter.com/Dguo7hHqHX— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 30, 2018
Eight seconds later, the Rocket had a two goal lead, this time thanks to Alexandre Alain burying his fifth goal of the year. A faceoff win by Jake Evans got the puck to Maxim Lamarche, who threaded a pass to Alain, who had no issues finishing the play off to double Laval’s lead.
Eight seconds after Jevpalovs' goal, Alexandre Alain scores on the breakaway to make it 2-0 Laval. pic.twitter.com/03Lh0MwzZY— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 30, 2018
Marcoux was sharp throughout the rest of the period, flashing the leather on Greg McKegg and keeping the Rocket in the lead heading into the first intermission.
The second period saw a number of goals in rapid successions once again, only this time it was Charlotte on the scoring end of them. McCarron was called for hooking two minutes into the period, and on the ensuing man advantage Saku Maenalanen potted a goal for the Checkers on a scramble around Marcoux.
Three minutes later, Checkers captain Patrick Brown knotted the game up with his seventh goal of the year. A faceoff win to Nick Schilkey allowed him to rip a clean shot from the point, where on its way in Brown got just enough to direct it by Marcoux.
The Rocket didn’t stay down for long, answering Charlotte with a power-play goal of their own before the halfway point of the period. Trevor Carrick was sitting out for his elbowing minor, and with the man advantage Laval took back their lead. Xavier Ouellet uncorked a big shot from the point which Darling got his blocker on, and the puck fell right to McCarron. The big forward then tapped it through the crease and Evans had a tap-in for his ninth of the year.
Sweet hands by Michael McCarron gives Jake Evans a tap in for his ninth goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/LJ7E13B2zR— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 30, 2018
The back-and-forth period did not stop there, with Charlotte adding one more goal to tie the game once again, this time courtesy of Morgan Geekie. It wasn’t for a lack of effort either, as when the horn sounded for the intermission, the Checkers had 30 shots on goal, compared to Laval’s 19.
In the final period, the Rocket held Charlotte to just two shots on net, which in and of itself is an incredible feat. Unfortunately, the Checkers scored on 50% of those shots, with Dennis Robertson putting his team up 4-3 with just over seven minutes gone.
As they have all week, the Rocket pushed back, and fought for every scoring chance — quite literally in the case of Michael Pezzetta, who dropped the gloves with Dan Renouf after a fight yesterday.
With the clock ticking away Laval was throwing everything possible at the net, and with just over three minutes remaining they got the break they deserved. David Sklenicka fired the puck in, and it took an odd bounce off the boards. Jevpalovs got a stick on it, and then Lukas Vejdemo jumped all over it, burying his sixth goal of the season.
An odd bounce off the boards, and Lukas Vejdemo ties the game late for the Rocket. pic.twitter.com/s9gHg59sog— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 30, 2018
Getting to overtime was well deserved for Laval, but after three games in three days, their legs were tired, and Andrew Poturalski notched his 13th goal of the year for a Checkers win.
Three points out of four against the best team in the AHL is impressive for a Laval team missing so many key pieces, even moreso during a three-in-three weekend. The Rocket now have a few days off until their next game on January 2 against the Belleville Senators.
Final Score: Charlotte 5, Laval 4
1. Morgan Geekie (1 Goal, 2 Assists)
2. Nick Schilkey (3 Assists)
3. Nikita Jevpalovs (1 Goal, 1 Assist)