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Laval vs. Syracuse recap & highlights: Late comeback not enough in loss to Crunch

Great efforts by Michael McNiven and Lukas Vejdemo didn’t bring a win on Wednesday night.

Club de Hockey Canadien

Following their come-from-behind, four-goal-third-period win against the Utica Comets on Saturday night, the Laval Rocket were back in action against the Syracuse Crunch. It was another crucial game with the Rocket sitting nine points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Dropping points against divisional rivals is nothing short of devastating at this point in the season.

With Charlie Lindgren on recall to Montreal, the net was returned to Michael McNiven, who has quietly begun to put his game together at the pro level. Connor LaCouvee served as his backup for the night. Former IceCaps fan favourite Eddie Pasquale got the start for the Crunch and looked to earn another victory against his former organization.

Like many of the games between these clubs, it didn’t take long for the goals to start flying up on the board. Cameron Gaunce was banished to the penalty box just 45 seconds into the period for delay of game, and Xavier Ouellet made him pay for it. A loose puck along the boards came to the Rocket captain, who walked the line to find a shooting lane before rifling a shot that was deflected by a Crunch player by Pasquale for an early 1-0 lead.

The Rocket power play was back on the ice again shortly after, this time due to an offensive-zone penalty by Alexander Volkov. A few chances from the blue line is all this man advantage could muster, and Alex Barre-Boulet was able to kill off a solid chunk of the penalty on his own thanks to a timely short-handed rush late in the power play.

McNiven was called upon after that, and the sophomore goaltender stood tall on some great looks on net by Brady Brassart and Joey Tammela to keep Laval in the lead. But the potent Syracuse offence would break through before period’s end. Cal Foote broke off his coverage, and Andy Andreoff fed him a one-timer that he blasted home, thanks to Alex Kile having wiped out on McNiven in the crease.

A Brassart boarding penalty on Michael Pezzetta handed Laval their third power play of the period, and offered the Rocket a chance to head into the intermission with a lead. It was not to be as the Rocket struggled to find zone time for long, and generated nothing of note as the period came to an end in a 1-1 tie.

Like the Crunch in the first period, the Rocket started the second period with a penalty of their own, as Maxim Lamarche headed to the box for hooking with just under two minutes played. The best chances in the next two minutes fell to the Rocket, with Antoine Waked getting three prime scoring chances in close on Pasquale, but the veteran netminder denied him to prevent the short-handed goal.

The Crunch broke the deadlock late in the period with Alexandre Grenier sitting in the box for tripping. Taylor Raddysh slipped off his coverage and was left uncovered in the slot, giving him all the time he needed to rip a shot by McNiven who desperately sprawled out to try to get a piece of the puck.

The third period didn’t get off to a much better start either, with Gabriel Dumont continuing to haunt the AHL franchise with a backbreaking goal. Dumont was rushing in on net with the puck, and when he attempted to dish off to Conacher his pass bounced off a Rocket defender. Dumont, ever the wily vet, swatted it home with a baseball swing, and put his side on top by two goals.

From there the Crunch took over the period, swarming constantly in the Rocket defensive zone, but a strong showing by McNiven and the Rocket defenders kept the Crunch out of the dangerous spots, and off the scoreboard.

McNiven sparked a late push for comeback with a pair of incredible saves in short order, keeping the deficit at two goals.

With McNiven brought to the bench, the Rocket mounted a valiant effort in an attempt to climb out of the two-goal hole, and an outstanding effort by Lukas Vejdemo helped that along. A Jake Evans shot bounced off Pasquale’s pads in front, and in the ensuing scrum Vejdemo contorted around sprawling Crunch players and Pasquale to tuck home the puck for a late goal, his 12th of the year.

It proved to be too little, too late as Pasquale nearly hit the empty net from his own crease, but Barre-Boulet had cheated out of the zone to easily slot home the goal, and send Laval to a 4-2 defeat.

The Rocket a are running out of games to make up their nine-point deficit, and with three teams between them and fourth place, it’s looking more likely that Joël Bouchard & co. are going to miss out on the post-season.

Up next for the Rocket is a two-game road trip to Belleville for a match-up with the fourth-place Senators, who are bolstered by the addition of top prospect Erik Brannstrom.

Three Stars

1. Eddie Pasquale (29 Saves, Win)

2. Gabriel Dumont (1 Goal)

3. Lukas Vejdemo (1 Goal)