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Laval @ Cleveland recap & highlights: Rocket drop a close effort against the Monsters

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Two empty-net goals skewed the score, but the Rocket were on the cusp of a second straight comeback win.

Club de Hockey Canadien

Just 24 hours after a trio of rookies sparked the Laval Rocket to a come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Monsters, the two teams met once again to close out the two-game series.

After coming in to relieve Charlie Lindgren on Thursday, Michael McNiven got the start in net for Joël Bouchard. Also of note was that after a two-goal outing, and his best game so far this year, Hayden Verbeek was promoted to the top-line centre role, between Daniel Audette and Alexandre Grenier.

It was not a high-energy period for either side, with just eight total shots between then in the opening 20 minutes. In fact, it wasn’t until the final four minutes that anything really of note happened. Maxim Lamarche was sent off on a hooking call at 16:13 of the period, and it took just four seconds for the Monsters to capitalize, with Zac Dalpe tipping home an Adam Clendening shot over McNiven for a 1-0 lead.

Luckily for the Rocket, heading into the second frame they had a massive opportunity to strike back. A bench minor coupled with a Paul Bittner slashing call put the Rocket on a five-on-three power play with 30 seconds left in the period, meaning they’d carry the minor penalties into the next one.

Despite the two-man advantage, the Rocket failed to do much of anything with the puck when they had it on their sticks. When Bittner and Koules were released from the box, Laval had managed just two shots on net, neither really troubling Cleveland netminder Brad Thiessen.

While Laval tried to get their offence in gear, the Monsters had no issue piling up chances on net, and it was a strong period for McNiven as he turned away 19 shots by the final horn. He also managed to pick up a penalty, putting his team down a man with just over 11 minutes gone.

With McNiven picking up a two-minute interference minor, the Rocket headed to a crucial penalty kill. In the ensuing moments, the hockey universe seemed to align for a bit of incredible luck. Brett Lernout slammed a dump-in down the boards, and it caromed off the end boards at an odd angle, leaving Thiessen out to dry. Jake Evans went heavy on the forecheck and put the loose puck home, tying the game at one goal apiece.

With the minutes ticking away to end the period, and the Rocket finally finding their skating legs, a mental lapse cut that momentum off immediately. A too many men on the ice penalty in the final 80 seconds ensured that Laval had an abbreviated power play to kill in the third period.

The Rocket penalty-killers did kill off what was left of the bench minor, but the Monsters still broke the tie within the opening minute. As Kile came out of the box, he was forced to jump into the play, and during that sequence, Mark Letestu found the back of the net by redirecting Bittner’s pass, making it a 2-1 game.

The Rocket’s best chance to tie the game again came with Bittner in the box for slashing. After last night when a late power play led to the Rocket’s game-winning goal, the same would not be in the cards for Laval on Friday night. They couldn’t find the tying goal on the power play, or in the following minutes.

Two empty-net goals in the final two minutes skew the score line in a big way. McNiven was at the top of his game all night, but unfortunately he can’t score goals for his team as well.

Following the series split, it’s back home to Place Bell for the Rocket, where they’ll play the Toronto Marlies on Wednesday and Friday, then face the Utica Comets on Saturday night.

Three Stars

1. Zac Dalpe (2 Goals, 1 Assist)

2. Mark Letestu (1 Goal, 1 Assist)

3. Brad Thiessen (Win, 22 Saves)