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Laval Rocket recap and highlights: A squandered chance to sweep series versus league’s worst team

It was a roller-coaster weekend as the Rocket battled the Senators in back-to-back games.

Club de Hockey Canadien Inc.

After a tough three-in-three set a week ago and a lopsided loss on Wednesday, the Rocket kicked off their weekend series with the Belleville Senators on Friday night. The Senators, much like the Rocket, had struggled in their debut season, and sat below Laval in the AHL North Division standings, making these two games more for pride than a playoff push.

Friday night: 4-3 OTW

The Rocket were down Brett Lernout for the weekend as he was recalled to the NHL on an emergency basis due to an injury to Rinat Valiev. However, the Rocket’s top offensive blue-liner, Matt Taormina, returned to the lineup after missing 13 games with an injury.

After getting the lone win last week, Zachary Fucale got the start in net, while Danny Taylor was between the pipes for the Senators.

Things were close, but scoreless through the opening 20 minutes as Fucale and Taylor stopped every puck thrown their way, including a penalty kill on each side. The second period was the polar opposite, containing three goals, with all three of them occurring inside a two-minute window.

Gabriel Gagne opened the scoring for the Senators by taking a pass in the slot, cutting around the Rocket defenders and getting his shot on net. Fucale stopped the initial shot, but couldn’t corral the rebound, and Gagne lifted the puck up and over for his 18th of the year.

Then it was the Rocket’s turn to strike, taking just 22 seconds to knot the score back up thanks to Éric Gélinas, who proved to be a deciding factor in this one. With an offensive-zone faceoff, Michael McCarron won the puck straight back to Gélinas, who in turn blasted the puck on a one-time chance that Taylor had no chance at, tying the game at one.

It took 1:22 for Belleville to regain their lead again, thanks to a power-play opportunity with Adam Cracknell in the box. On the man advantage, a nice bit of passing between Ville Pokka and Filip Chlapik got the puck to the top of the zone for Ben Sexton. He was given just enough daylight to walk in to the top of the faceoff circle and wire a wrist shot over Fucale’s shoulder for a 2-1 Belleville lead.

The Senators struck again early in the third period, this time due to the absolute confusion they created in the Rocket defensive zone, and eventually Fucale couldn’t come up with the loose puck. The shot came in from the point, and Chlapik nearly scored in close before finding Sexton in front, who shoveled a pass towards the net that Jack Rodewald tipped home to make it a 3-1 affair.

Then Gélinas took over the scoresheet.

Just under three minutes later the Rocket battled back into the game, notching another goal on the power play to make it 3-2. Niki Petti brought the puck in deep, and passed it off to Jordan Boucher behind the Senators net. Boucher found Gélinas at the point. He and Tom Parisi then linked up, with Parisi teeing up a perfect pass for another one-time goal by Gélinas, his 11th of the year.

After a pair of fights involving Patrick Sieloff and Gagne for the Sens, and Petti and Jeremy Grégoire for the Rocket, Laval found yet another tying goal on the red-hot stick of Gélinas.

Cracknell picked out Parisi near the blue line, and with an accurate cross-zone feed he set up another perfect one-timer that Gélinas got all of to tie the game with under two minutes remaining.

The Rocket didn’t seem satisfied with just mounting an exciting comeback. They wanted the full victory, and in overtime they found it on the stick of Chris Terry.

The Senators were whistled for too many men on the ice, and the power play was all that Laval needed. Gélinas, looking for a fourth goal, missed the net with his shot, but Terry collected the puck and fed it to Taormina, who waited before dishing back to Terry. He nearly lost control of the puck, corralled it again, and then wired a shot over Taylor for his 25th goal of the year.

Three Stars

1. Éric Gélinas (3 Goals, 1 Assist)

2. Ben Sexton (1 Goal, 1 Assist)

3. Filip Chlapik (2 Assists)

Saturday: 5-3 L

After a back-and-forth, thrilling affair the previous night, Laval and Belleville clashed again on Saturday. The noteworthy changes were in net, with Michael McNiven starting for the Rocket, while Marcus Hogberg got the call for the Senators. Also missing was Gabriel Gagne who appeared to injure himself in a fight with Jeremy Grégoire late in the previous night’s game.

It was a hot start for the Rocket, who jumped out of the gate looking like the far better team in the opening minutes. A handful of grade-A chance fell to the sticks of Grégoire and Adam Cracknell, forcing Hogberg into some timely saves early on.

Then with roughly half the period gone, the Rocket found their breakthrough on a scramble in front. Tom Parisi fired a shot from the blue line, and Chris Terry jumped all over the rebound, giving him 26 goals on the year and handing Laval a 1-0 lead.

The onslaught didn’t stop there, as the Rocket went to a power play shortly after their opening goal, and despite not converting on the man advantage, they found another goal shortly after from an unlikely source. David Broll carried the puck in, backed off a defender, and fed a perfect pass to Luc-Olivier Blain, who calmly finished on his backhand to double the Rocket lead.

Even a penalty kill didn’t slow down Laval in the opening period. After killing off Niki Petti’s minor, they struck again to pile on an impotent Senators side. Stefan Leblanc brought the puck deep behind the net, and slid a pass to Terry, who in turn hit a streaking Kerby Rychel with a perfect feed, and the red-hot Rychel notched his fifth goal in just his sixth game in a Rocket uniform.

The second period played out similarly to the first in many ways. The Rocket owned the flow of play for the most part, and piled up twice as many shots as the Senators. However, unlike the first period, the Sens were opportunistic and cashed in on the few chances they did have, and cut what seemed like a safe Rocket lead down to just a single goal. Jack Rodewald snapped McNiven’s shutout bid with a breakaway goal less than five minutes into the period.

Despite his team having the lead, and playing a major role for Laval, Michael McCarron chose to engage in a spirited fight with Andreas Englund late in the middle period. While he got the better of the exchange of punches, Belleville ended up benefiting the most from the bout, as just under a minute later Eric Selleck grabbed his fourth goal of the year, erasing what had seemed like a secure Laval lead before the teams headed for the dressing rooms.

Things didn’t get any better in the third for the Rocket either, as they went to the penalty kill early in the period once again, and despite killing the hooking minor off, they surrendered the tying goal shortly thereafter.

The Senators got their first lead of the night with just under five minutes remaining. Daniel Ciampini was left wide open and wired home a wrist shot to put Belleville on top.

With the net empty and the Rocket down to their last chance, they faltered once more to make the collapse complete. Matt Taormina failed to connect on his pass, and Max Reinhart scored the empty-net goal to put the game away, and secure an improbable series split for the Senators.

It’s a quick turnaround now for the Rocket as they head to Toronto to face the AHL-leading Marlies on Monday afternoon, and then again on Wednesday evening. Following those two games they’ll head into the heart of New York to clash with the Utica Comets and Syracuse Crunch on Friday and Saturday night.

Three Stars

1. Jack Rodewald (2 Goals, 1 Assist)

2. Chris Terry (1 Goal, 1 Assist)

3. Filip Chlapik (1 Assist)