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Laval vs. Belleville recap & highlights: Lukas Vejdemo and Connor LaCouvee guide Rocket to shootout win

The rookie netminder and forward were the driving forces in a hard-fought win over the Senators on Friday night.

Club de Hockey Canadien

After nearly completing a second straight come-from-behind win on Wednesday night against the Syracuse Crunch, the Laval Rocket hit the road for the weekend series against the Belleville Senators.

Unluckily for the Rocket, the Senators would be bolstered by the return of their incredible young defenceman, Erik Brannstrom, after he had been recalled by the NHL club in Ottawa earlier this week. The Senators sat a comfortable nine points ahead of the Rocket heading into this game, but with the Rocket’s recent surge in play they had every chance in the world of tripping up their divisional rival.

Returning after a lengthy stay on the injured list was Hunter Shinkaruk, adding some desperately needed depth to the Rocket offence. Connor LaCouvee was between the pipes for the Rocket, while Marcus Hogberg took the net for Belleville.

It was not the first period that the Rocket were hoping for on the road. The Senators came out swinging early, putting Laval on their heels in the opening minutes. Then Joseph LaBate picked out J.C. Beaudin in the slot for Beaudin’s first goal for the Senators, and putting heavy pressure on Laval to find their legs quickly.

After killing a Maxim Lamarche penalty, and a bout between Alexandre Grenier and Andreas Englund, they did just that. For the final few minutes of the period, the Rocket swarmed the Senators zone, but could not find a goal thanks to some big stops by Hogberg. With the ice tilting in their favour, the Rocket went into the first intermission down by a goal, but very much still in the game.

They continued to put on pressure in the second period, with a heavy presence in the Belleville end, aided by a Vitaly Abramov delay of game penalty. On the ensuing power play, the much maligned Rocket unit found the back of the net to tie the game up. A quick cycle fed the puck across to Cale Fleury who let a heavy shot go. Hogberg couldn’t handle the rebound, while Alexandre Alain and Lukas Vejdemo poked at the loose puck. The latter jammed it home for his 13th goal of the year.

After a spirited tilt between the unlikely duo of Drake Batherson and David Sklenicka, the Senators took another ill-fated penalty, this time with Brannstrom taking a seat. Following the same format as their first power-play goal, the Rocket used quick, heavy passes to move the puck around, eventually to Xavier Ouellet. The Rocket captain let a booming shot go, and again Hogberg failed to control the rebound. Joe Cox slammed home the rebound for a Laval lead.

The Senators’ march to the penalty box continued with Abramov taking a seat for the second time in the period. The Rocket power play again came out firing on all cylinders.

A nice fake by Daniel Audette opened the entire zone for an Alexandre Alain one-timer, but a massive lunging save from Hogberg denied the Rocket a third straight power-play marker.

LaCouvee kept the Senators quiet with another steady showing in net, allowing no second chances and holding on to the shots that came his way. Even a Senators power play that was rife with great chances by Brannstrom couldn’t solve the Laval netminder, and the Rocket kept their one goal lead heading into the final five minutes of the period.

While the Rocket controlled play for most of the frame, the Senators still managed to tie the game with 22 seconds left on the clock. LaBate turned Brett Lernout all around, then used him as a screen to fire a shot by LaCouvee and tie the game at two goals apiece heading into the intermission.

The third period started with heavy pressure from Belleville, and it didn’t relent for the first 10 minutes. The Senators managed only three official shots on net, including an in-close rip by Logan Brown that LaCouvee snared out of the air with his glove. When it looked like they would finally break through, another penalty by Abramov sent the Rocket back to the power play.

An active two minutes for Laval couldn’t bring about a third goal, then they had to weather a hefty counter-attack by the Senators. Jake Evans then had a seat for interfering with a Belleville forward, putting the Rocket penalty kill on the ice in a crucial situation with under five minutes left to play.

Key blocks and big stops by LaCouvee held off the Senators’ man advantage. In fact, the Rocket penalty-killers only allowed two shots on net, continuing to do a great job at limiting chances in the dangerous areas in the defensive zone. A late push by Cox and the Rocket offence wasn’t enough to find that third goal in regulation, and the two rival teams headed to overtime tied at two.

The three-on-three overtime was all about Vejdemo and LaCouvee, as both rookies stole the show for Laval. LaCouvee made five total saves, including a lunging poke check in the final seconds to deny a three-on-one rush, while Vejdemo compiled a handful of chances from the start of the overtime to the end to nearly win it for the Rocket.

LaCouvee continued his incredible form, denying Adam Tambellini, Batherson, and Darren Archibald’s attempts. Meanwhile, the skilled Rocket forwards made one more impact, with Audette putting on some nifty moves and burying the only goal of the shootout for a Laval victory.

With the gap to the Senators down from nine to eight after the three-point contest, these two teams will square off at 7:00 pm tomorrow in a rematch, Michael McNiven is the expected starter for the Rocket.

Three Stars

1. Daniel Audette (Shootout winner)

2. J.C. Beaudin (1 Goal, 1 Assist)

3. Joe Cox (1 Goal)