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Rocket @ Thunderbirds recap & highlights: Jake Evans’s big night spurs Laval to comeback win

Evans and Ryan Poehling played huge roles in a victory for the short-handed Rocket.

Club de Hockey Canadien

Fresh off a lopsided loss to the Syracuse Crunch where the Laval Rocket were beaten on the scoreboard and beaten up general, the team headed into Springfield for a match with the Thunderbirds. It was not going to be an easy game as Springfield netminder Philippe Desrosiers was coming off a 62-save win over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Wednesday night.

The Rocket were still without Alex Belzile, who was nursing an injury, and were also down forward Michael Pezzetta who was suspended following his check to the head of Daniel Walcott in Friday night’s loss. Taking Pezzetta’s spot was Hayden Verbeek who was making his season debut for the Rocket, and between the pipes was Charlie Lindgren, who looked to build on his win from earlier in the week.

The trend of games getting off to scary starts continued for the Rocket. Joe Cox was tracking back to the net and fell right into Lindgren, leaving the Rocket goalie sprawled on his back inside the net and not moving. After a long delay, Lindgren stayed in the net, stopping the first real shot he faced from Anthony Greco.

The Rocket battled back quickly, earning the first power play of the game after Sebastian Repo boarded Jake Evans. After a stunning glove save from Desrosiers robbed the Rocket of a sure goal, it looked like the power play was going to result in nothing. A big release from Josh Brook changed that, as the rookie’s shot was redirected by Evans in front of the net for an early Laval lead.

The edge was short-lived as Daniel Audette took advantage of a poor pinch to break in on an odd-man rush. Audette opted to hold the puck, and fired a low shot by Lindgren to tie the game at one goal apiece, and send down a hail of teddy bears. As the ice crew worked to clean up the rain of stuffed animals, Lindgren exited the game, clearly not 100% after the early collision, and Keith Kinkaid took the crease.

Aleksi Heponiemi tripped up Nikita Jevpalovs with just under six minutes left to play in the period, putting the Rocket back on the man advantage with a chance to retake the lead late in the period. The man advantage didn’t find a breakthrough as the Thunderbirds kept the Rocket stuck to the boards, and struggling to find space to shoot. Audette nearly scored another as the penalty expired, but was denied by a strong pad save from Kinkaid.

Springfield made the most of their late-period power play with Antoine Waked sitting for holding, Thomas Schemitsch rifled a shot through Kinkaid to put the Thunderbirds up 2-1. Ryan Poehling nearly tied it, but his shot went high over the net as the horn sounded for the first intermission.

The Rocket started quickly in the second period, with Poehling working behind the Thunderbirds net. Poehling picked out a streaking Riley Barber, but Desrosiers’s quick glove hand stole another goal from the forward, keeping Springfield in the lead.

A big hit by Henrik Borgstrom on Michael McCarron sent the big forward to the locker room shortly after, thinning out the Laval bench even further.

The Rocket did not convert on a Blaine Byron slashing penalty, but the Thunderbirds did on their power play when the Rocket were called for too many men. A shot caromed around in front off of Kinkaid’s initial save, and Dryden Hunt slipped by Dale Weise to lift the puck over the goalie to push Springfield’s lead to two.

The Rocket did kill off their next penalty, a minor for interference on Waked, and as he exited the box he jumped up into a rush to make it a three-on-one chance, but a diving pokecheck prevented him from shooting cleanly.

The penalty parade continued as Will Lochead was sent to the box next for kneeing Alexandre Alain, leaving the forward slow to get up. They failed to make much of the late power play, and skated into the intermission trailing by a pair of goals.

The Rocket needed a big start to the final 20 minutes, and they found it. Barber sent Poehling up the left wall with a perfect breakout pass, and Poehling took his time before lifting a cross-zone feed right to Evans. Evans was crashing the net and fought off the trailing defender to put the pass home to cut the lead to one goal.

Just a few minutes later, the Rocket managed to tie the game, thanks to an innocent looking play from Karl Alzner. Jevpalovs got the puck to Alzner, who flicked a harmless shot on net, but Kevin Lynch got just enough of the puck to steer it by Desrosiers and tie the game 3-3.

A Joe Cox penalty threatened to derail the momentum Laval had created, but Kinkaid came up with a number of big saves to deny the Thunderbirds a fourth goal as the third period wore on. There wasn’t much rest for Kinkaid either, as Gustav Olofsson took a turn in the box for tripping up Byron. Despite needing a moment at the bench after being shaken up, Kinkaid came up big again on the penalty kill. Lukas Vejdemo nearly rewarded his goalie with a short-handed goal but could not tuck the puck around Desrosiers’s pad.

Waked drew a call on Matt Marcinew, putting Laval on a late power play, and it took the Rocket six seconds to cash in. Vejdemo won the puck to Evans who fired a shot on net, and Barber jumped on the rebound to put the Rocket up 4-3.

Another penalty on the Thunderbirds allowed the Rocket a big chance to run the final two-plus minutes off of the clock as Brady Keeper tripped up Weise. Springfield eventually pulled Desrosiers, making it a five-on-five situation again with their net empty, but the Rocket held on to earn the two points.

Final Score: 4-3 Laval

The battered and bruised Rocket are off until Tuesday now when they’ll welcome Cleveland to Place Bell.

Three Stars

1. Riley Barber (1 Goal, 1 Assist)

2. Daniel Audette (1 Goal, 1 Assist)

3. Jake Evans (2 Goals, 1 Assist)