A hectic week finally came to a close on the road as the Laval Rocket rolled into Rochester for the last stop on their three-games-in-three-days weekend. Awaiting them was a freshly restocked Rochester Americans team which had just easily dispatched the AHL-leading Toronto Marlies the previous night. The Rocket themselves arrived in Rochester having battled and earned a hard-fought 5-4 overtime victory against the Syracuse Crunch, thanks in part to a timely Kerby Rychel goal and Jeremy Grégoire’s overtime heroics.
After Zachary Fucale stood on his head to give Laval a chance to win in Syracuse, Michael McNiven would get the nod in net for the Rocket on Sunday. For the Amerks, Adam Wilcox got the call between the pipes.
Jackson Leef was released from his PTO earlier in the day, meaning the Rocket were rolling 11 forwards and seven defencemen, with PTO signee Tyson Wilson making his debut for the team. Laval caught a bit of a break as well, with the ever-dangerous Kyle Criscuolo and Brendan Guhle being called up to the Buffalo Sabres prior to the game.
The Rocket took the early advantage, gaining solid zone time with their top two lines, but were unable to get anything of quality on Wilcox. It ended up being McNiven who was forced into the first difficult save of the afternoon, as he stopped a Rochester two-on-one cold in its tracks. After Rychel and Adam Cracknell generated a chance in close, Kevin Porter split between Stefan Leblanc and Simon Bourque, forcing McNiven into another big save with just six-and-a-half minutes gone.
What then followed was an elbowing penalty for Stuart Percy, a delay of game call on Justin Bailey, and finally a slashing call on Michael McCarron, all within 13 seconds of each other. On the ensuing four-on-three power play, Willie Corrin funneled the puck over to Cracknell, who uncorked a slapshot past Wilcox for a 1-0 Laval lead.
What a rocket by Adam Cracknell for his 22nd goal of the year pic.twitter.com/M3F1iZuUFJ— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 4, 2018
Then it was Laval’s turn on the penalty kill as Brett Lernout sat for tripping, and after a few nervy moments, the puck made its way onto Zach Redmond’s stick, and just like that it was a tie game.
It didn’t take long for Rochester to jump into the lead — just 10 seconds in fact — as Daniel Muzito-Bagenda was left all alone at the side of the net to tap home a Justin Danforth pass.
Now with momentum on their side, Rochester took over the period, swarming the Rocket defensive zone looking for another goal, but McNiven held them at bay.
With 50 seconds left on the clock, Tom Parisi shuffled a pass along the blue line to Willie Corrin, who let a slapshot rip and ended up with his first career AHL goal, tying the game for Laval.
The period came to an end, but not before Niki Petti was whistled for tripping up a Rochester player, meaning the Rocket would start the middle frame down a man.
Disaster nearly struck early in the second period as Thomas Ebbing jumped out to join the penalty kill, almost immediately lost his stick, and was unable to recover it. He did his best to block any Amerks chances with just his body, and eventually the Rocket cleared the zone and killed off the remainder of Petti’s penalty.
The rookie netminder bailed out his defenders yet again after Eric Gelinas was caught at the offensive blue line trying to play the puck. Hudson Fasching fed a pass past a sprawling Brett Lernout, and McNiven dove across his crease to deny what looked like a sure goal for Rochester.
Another period, another big save by Michael McNiven on an odd man rush. pic.twitter.com/0XTC88qYNV— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 4, 2018
After most of the period was spent exchanging chances, the Amerks found a go-ahead goal once again. Danforth snuck behind Lernout and took a breakaway feed before beating McNiven five-hole for his first goal of the year.
Laval had a great chance to get that goal back in the final moments of the second period, as Sahir Gill went off on a tripping call with 20 seconds on the clock. They managed just one decent shot on net before the period ended, giving them an abbreviated man advantage to start the third.
The Rocket were unable to set up and work their man advantage as the final period started, spending more time circling in their own zone than in the Amerks’. Things went from bad to worse as the Rocket offence stalled out in the opening half of the third period.
Gelinas, in an attempt to clear the zone, fired the puck out of play, giving the Americans another power play and a chance to double their lead. The penalty kill, led by a resolute Antoine Waked, killed off the minor penalty and set out looking for an equalizer.
That goal would never materialize for a road-weary Rocket side, as they struggled to even direct shots at the Rochester net. Through the first 16 minutes of the final period, Laval managed zero shots on goal despite starting the frame with the man advantage. Their only real push came late with McNiven on the bench and an extra attacker on the ice, but it was all for naught as Kevin Porter rifled a shot from his defensive zone into the empty net to seal the game.
After a busy week, the Rocket will now head home to the confines of Place Bell, where they will welcome the Providence Bruins on Wednesday, March 7, before a back-to-back series with the Belleville Senators on Friday and Saturday night.
1. Justin Danforth (1 Goal, 1 Assist)
2. Daniel Muzito-Bagenda (1 Goal, 1 Assist)
3. Willie Corrin (1 Goal, 1 Assist)