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Rocket weekend recap: Laval sweeps division rivals

It was a great weekend for the Rocket and their depleted lineup.

Belleville Senators

Coming off a disappointing pair of losses to the Hershey Bears and the Toronto Marlies, the Laval Rocket looked to find some positives to end their season. Charlie Lindgren was on emergency recall to Montreal, meaning Michael McNiven and Zachary Fucale would be handling the goaltending duties this weekend. For the Rocket, they finally got a bit of good news as leading scorer Chris Terry returned to the lineup after an absence due to an injury.

Friday: W 5-2 vs. Utica

The net on Friday night belonged to the rookie McNiven, while opposite of him was the highly touted Thatcher Demko for the Comets; a true battle between impressive young goaltenders.

An even first period saw a slight shot edge to the Comets, who tallied 11 shots compared to the Rocket’s six. This was aided by a pair of power plays, which a struggling Rocket penalty kill managed to kill off, while the vaunted Laval power play failed to capitalize on their two power-play chances in the opening 20 minutes.

While neither side was capable of gaining an upper hand in the opening period, the Rocket offence roared into top gear in the second, Firing 15 shots and registering three goals on Demko, including a pair by Terry who looked no worse for wear after missing some time due to injury.

Terry broke the scoreless game open just 3:03 into the second period after the Rocket killed off the remainder of a Michael McCarron tripping penalty. Tom Parisi broke out around the net, fed the puck up to Adam Cracknell, who fired a shot in on Demko. Terry pounced on the loose puck, and fired a shot off a Utica defender’s skate and into the back of the net.

Jordan Boucher jumped in just over four-and-a-half minutes later, grabbing his seventh goal of the year to continue his run of strong play for a depleted Rocket roster. McCarron carried the puck into the offensive zone and dished off to Daniel Audette, who created a rebound for Boucher to easily backhand home to double the Rocket’s lead.

After a short battle of the fists between McCarron and Patrick Wiercioch, the Rocket added another goal, with Terry getting his second of the game. A stretch pass from the Laval zone to Terry sent the forward in alone. In an incredible individual effort, Terry held off a defender, pulled the puck to his backhand and finished with aplomb to make it a three-goal lead for the Rocket.

Things got a little bit nervy in the final period, with Laval leading by three, Guillaume Brisebois cut into their advantage just over three minutes into the period. For the Rocket they managed to limit the damage to just that until the final five minutes of the game, with Cole Cassels making it 3-2 and putting Utica in position to break Laval’s heart in the third period once again.

Jordan Boucher put those fears to rest when he scored his second goal of the game to seal a victory for the Rocket. For good measure Daniel Audette put home an empty-net marker to fully lock the game down.

Three Stars

1. Jordan Boucher (2 goals)

2. Chris Terry (2 goals)

3. Michael McNiven (W, 26 saves)

Saturday: 4-3 W vs. Belleville

After a great showing against a tough Utica team, the Rocket had to travel north of the border for a Saturday night clash with the Belleville Senators. After McNiven got the nod on Friday night, it was Fucale between the pipes for the Rocket. Facing him was Marcus Hogberg for the Senators.

The two goaltenders know each other quite well as they shared goaltending duties for the ECHL Brampton Beast at one point this season. In fact, they were but two of a total of 11 players on both rosters that played for Brampton this season, including both backup goaltenders as well.

Unlike the previous night, the Rocket came out firing on all cylinders to start the game, registering 14 first period shots on Hogberg. It was less than four minutes into the game when the Rocket found their first goal off the stick of Audette on a simple shot from the blue line that completely fooled Hogberg. It was Audette’s 13th goal of the season.

The Rocket also generated sustained pressure while on a two-minute penalty, when the Senators were penalized for upending Nikita Scherbak. The Rocket started with their second power-play unit of Markus Eisenschmid, Boucher, Audette, Parisi, and Brett Lernout, and this second wave managed to control the puck for practically the entire power play, not giving the Senators a chance to clear the zone. No goal came from it though.

The second period was the Nick Paul show for Belleville as he scored a natural hat trick as part of a dominant period for the home team. The Rocket were only able to muster up six shots, while the Senators fired 13 on Fucale, who could not really be blamed for any of the goals. They were solid plays by Ben Sexton, who set up all three of Paul’s goals in the period, including a power-play tally.

David Broll was the lone scorer for the Rocket in the second period, coming off a 2-on-1 counter-attack by the fourth line. Thomas Ebbing dished a beautiful centring pass to Broll who tipped it through Hogberg’s five-hole. It was probably another goal that the Swedish goaltender would like to get back on a night where he generally looked weak, allowing bad goals on easy shots, but stopping the harder ones.

It was 3-2 after two periods for Belleville, but it didn’t take long for the Rocket to even it up when a streaking McCarron centred the puck and it hit the tangled mass of Jeremy Grégoire and Paul. The puck appeared to go off Paul’s stick, but Grégoire got credit for the tying goal, his eighth of the season.

Hogberg looked weak once again on the game-winning goal, when Eric Gelinas simply backhand-shovelled the puck from the blue line after receiving it from Boucher. Eisenschmid managed to get his stick on the puck in mid-air to redirect it past a stunned goaltender. Both teams managed 30 shots on the game, with Fucale making a few good ones to continue a solid streak of starts at the AHL level.

The Rocket finish the month with a record of four wins, four losses, and an overtime loss, meaning half of all available points were achieved by the Rocket, an improvement over January’s disastrous record. But the Rocket are still 18 points out of a playoff spot, in what is practically an insurmountable challenge.

Three Stars

1. Nick Paul (BEL, 3 goals)

2. Daniel Audette (1 goal, 1 assist)

3. Ben Sexton (BEL, 3 assists)