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Laval vs. Marlies recap & highlights: Another third period collapse dooms a strong start

The Rocket end the season on a 12 game losing streak

The final game of the Laval Rocket’s inaugural season was a second consecutive game against the Toronto Marlies in Toronto, with both teams headed in drastically opposite trajectories and the Rocket fell 6-4 after holding three leads in the game.

The Marlies are gunning on all cylinders headed into the Calder Cup playoffs, and need to be considered an early favourite. The Marlies sat 11 regular players from their line-up to ensure that everyone was rested as they ended the season with three games in three nights schedule to close out the year.

Meanwhile the Rocket are simply serving out the remainder of their 76 game schedule to complete their season. Sitting out the final game were Niki Petti, Yannick Veilleux, Tye Felhaber, David Broll, Tom Parisi, Johnny Austin and Eric Gelinas. Zachary Fucale was also not used in the goalie rotation for a second straight game. Daniel Audette, Simon Bourque, and Stefan Leblanc finished the season on the injured list.

The Laval Rocket started their final game strong against their divisional rival, coming out of the gates immediately with a rush to the net of Marlies goaltender Calvin Pickard, who had a shaky first period. Soon after the initial rush, Jeremy Gregoire put the Rocket ahead after receiving an on-the-fly pass from defenceman Garrett McFadden and managing to split the Marlies defence to beat Pickard with a slick backhand deke. It was Gregoire’s 25th point of the season, more than doubling his output from each of his previous two pro seasons. On the play, tryout Garrett McFadden recorded his first pro point, with the secondary assist going to fellow tryout Trevor Owens.

The Rocket controlled the first period for the most part, taking advantage of Pickard, who remained in the game despite a potential injury that took him a while to shake off after an awkward-looking sprawling save. The Marlies did eventually tie the game on a scramble in front of Rocket goaltender Michael McNiven, as Kristian Pospisil, playing in his first AHL game, recovered a loose puck that hit a group of players from a shot from the point, and put it past a sprawling McNiven.

Despite having double the points than their opponents, the Marlies were not without making the occasional mistake, and it was such a mistake, when a Marlie defender tried to clear the puck out the zone from a battle along the boards, but put it right on the stick of Anthony Beauregard who had a real good look, snapping the puck past Pickard to give the Rocket their second lead of the game. It was Beauregard’s first AHL goal in his tenth game played.

The Rocket finished a very strong first period doubling the Marlies in shots, 14-7, raising hope that perhaps this team could finish the season strong against the Marlies B-team, but it only took Toronto 30 seconds and one shot to tie the game up in the second period. Marlies newcomer Carl Grundstrom easily skated past Michael McCarron with the puck, drew in Brett Lernout, which left Miro Aaltonen completely unchecked in front of the net. After scoring two goals against the Rocket the night before in his very first AHL game, Grundstrom added to his point total, and he wouldn’t be done on the night.

Laval re-took the lead for the third time in the game on a beautiful pass by Markus Eisenschmid who showed a rare flash of offensive ability to feed a perfect pass to Jordan Boucher who easily scored his tenth goal of the season. Rinat Valiev got the secondary helper on the goal for the Rocket who played a worse second period, but still maintained a shot advantage of 24-21 after 40 minutes.

Everything fell apart in the third period for the Rocket, unfortunately. A promising, solid start to the game, and three separate leads eventually gave way to the Marlies who scored three goals in five minutes time tying goal in a performance typical of their entire season.

Dmytro Timashov scored an easy looking goal from a bad angle as McNiven looked confused or simply slow, and didn’t cover the near post with any sense of urgency.

Less than a minute later, ECHL call-up Pospisil squeaked out from a board battle, and passed the puck to a completely uncovered Erik Bradford, recently signed to a PTO from the Brampton Beast, who easily scored his first AHL goal since 2015.

At this point the Rocket were reeling, and nothing was going to stop the line of Aaltonen, Grundstrom, and Trevor Moore from fabricating a gorgeous tic-tac-toe play that left the defenders completely frozen. Just like that the game was blown wide open, with the Marlies leading 5-3.

The Marlies added an empty net goal to take the lead 6-3.

But in the final minutes of the game the Marlies took a delay of game penalty that allowed Chris Terry to set up Adam Cracknell for his 29th goal on the season, his most productive year since he scored 29 for the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL in 2007-08. The assist gave Terry a 71st point on the season and put him in sole possession of the AHL scoring lead while his closest competition Phil Varone was a healthy scratch for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in their final game of the season.

The only threat to the scoring title for Terry is Austin Czarnik who is only three points back and has a final game to play on Sunday with the Providence Bruins against the poor Springfield Thunderbirds. Three points is not an insurmountable amount.

The thoughts now turn to next season, and more importantly the off-season. In the coming days or weeks we should start learning what the organization’s intentions are with this coaching staff, and what changes they will want to implement to avoid another last place finish.