When Utica Comets goaltender Michael DiPietro was in the Ontario Hockey League with the WIndsor Spitfires, he had one of those streaks. His team went to three different cities, and in each one, the home team was doing their Teddy Bear Toss. He had three straight shutouts.
Saturday afternoon, DiPietro didn’t shut out the Laval Rocket, but he may as well have. He made 41 saves in Utica’s 4-2 win over the Rocket as the two teams split the two game series.
“You have to give credit to DiPietro, he stole the game,” said Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard. “43 shots, the scoring chances were three-for-one. We’re all upset and if there were shots we could do again, we would do them but the shot selection was good. They were good shots and we have to give credit. Sometimes you get beat by the goalie and today the goalie beat us.”
“All weekend I got scoring chances, when it’s close like that you always want to score a big goal,” said Rocket forward Alexandre Alain, who broke his stick after missing a chance. “It was a little bit of frustration, but my stick was already broken,” he laughed.
“He’s a good goalie, battles really hard, covers the bottom of the net but I don’t think we tested him enough until the end and he was warm and made some good saves,” said Matthew Peca, who had assists on both Rocket goals.
Nikolay Goldobin had a hat trick, his third into an empty net, but his second turned out to be the game-winning goal. The initial shot was saved by Charlie Lindgren but the rebound went right to Goldobin at the side of the net, who put the rebound past a sliding Rocket goaltender.
“It was a shot from the point, and obviously not where I wanted to put the rebound,” Lindgren said. “He just found a hole. Frustrating to lose like that but I’ll put it behind me and move on.”
The Rocket dominated the early part of the first period, with scoring chances and shots at DiPietro with the best chances coming from Jake Evans and Riley Barber, while the line of Alexandre Alain, Joe Cox, and Lukas Vejdemo also had some good moments.
A fight broke out when Michael Pezzetta and Dyson Stevenson met in the neutral zone. Just over two minutes later, Utica opened the scoring when Kole Lind threw the puck on net and it went off of Jonah Gadjovich, who was tied up by Michael McCarron. The referees reviewed the play to see if it was kicked in, but it was ruled a good goal to make it 1-0.
The Comets started the second period taking a 2-0 lead on the power play. Carter Camper faked the shot that drew everybody’s focus and found a wide open Nikolay Goldobin at the side of the net, who made no mistake.
Less than a minute falling behind 2-0, the toys rained down.
David Sklenicka called for the puck and fired a one-timer on a slap shot from the right point for his first of the season leading to one of the more amusing events of the season.
David Sklenicka is your Teddy Bear goal scorer this year, not a bad time for his first of the year. pic.twitter.com/oVkoG4kWfE— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 23, 2019
After a delay to pick up the 6,768 toys thrown from the 7,748 fans in attendance, the game resumed.
“You have to keep the same attitude,” said Alain. “The guys are aware, but you just have to keep putting pucks on net and get traffic in front. We knew the goaltender was having a good night, so you just need to keep throwing pucks at net.”
After Laval cut the lead in half, both sides had scoring chances. Lindgren kept the game 2-1 when he made an unbelievable acrobatic save. He channelled his inner Dominik Hasek to roll over and kick the puck out of the net.
Charlie Lindgren with a HUGE save. pic.twitter.com/uNzleGZVoA— Jared Book (@jaredbook) November 23, 2019
The save energized the Rocket. Barber, who had six shots in the game, Alain, and Kevin Lynch all had chances from in close, but could not beat DiPietro.
Finally Laval was able to tie the game. Matthew Peca won a race to the puck, drew the defender and made a perfect pass to Barber who had an open net to make it 2-2.
Early in the third, Utica thought they took the lead, when there was a mad scramble at the far post on Lindgren, but after initially calling a goal on the ice when the Comets started celebrating, the goal was waved off. Then, after a review the call on the ice stood to keep it a 2-2 game.
A minute after that, Justin Taylor had a breakaway on Lindgren and while he seemed to beat the Rocket goaltender, the puck was taken off the line by Sklenicka.
The two teams again traded chances. Otto Leskinen found Ryan Poehling at the side of the net, but the rookie fired it high and over the net. Shortly after, Goldobin’s winning goal was scored.
Laval would put pressure on Utica in the final minutes of the game, but passes just missed their mark, shots went high or wide, or were swallowed up by DiPietro.
Michael McCarron would be hit by a shot while standing in front and left the game, but the team doesn’t expect him to miss any time when they get back to practice on Monday. Goldobin’s empty netter went in with 21 seconds remaining.
Laval has another three-game week ahead of them next week, this time on the road. They face the Belleville Senators on Wednesday before two games in two nights against teams currently in playoff positions: the Syracuse Crunch on Friday and the Springfield Thunderbirds Saturday afternoon.
“A lot to be happy about,” said Peca despite the loss. “Obviously some breakdowns but that’s hockey. We talked about it, we’ll put it in the back of our minds and get ready for Wednesday.”
- Dale Weise and Noah Juulsen, who both played on Friday, missed Saturday’s game feeling ill. Juulsen also missed Wednesday’s game due to being sick. Michael Pezzetta and Sklenicka took their places.