After a difficult few weeks, the end is very much in sight for the Laval Rocket with just one game left to play on their schedule after last night’s visit to Syracuse. After a closely contested loss to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the beleaguered Rocket rolled in for a showdown with the Crunch.
Syracuse is locked in a battle for the division title with the Rochester Americans, so despite being a lock for the post-season, the Crunch had plenty on the line versus a non-playoff opponent. Connor LaCouvee started in net, continuing the trend of alternating games with Michael McNiven. Brett Lernout drew back in after being a healthy scratch, and Maxim Lamarche was the veteran given the night off as Joël Bouchard opted to use the last few games to give his young defenders more ice time.
It took all of 94 seconds for the Rocket to find themselves in a hole. Alexander Volkov came streaking in down the wing and wired a shot by LaCouvee for the early lead. Just a minute later, a neutral-zone turnover was collected by Taylor Raddysh, who beat Josh Brook with speed before sliding a pass to Andy Andreoff, who in turn buried his 26th goal of the year.
With two goals against on three shots, Bouchard took his timeout to try to refocus his team. It worked momentarily as the fourth-line duo of Hayden Verbeek and Michael Pezzetta tested Eddie Pasquale at the side of the net, but were denied.
The Crunch continued to own the puck from there, but the Rocket’s normally stingy defence was able to find its feet and keep the high-powered Crunch attack to the outside, limiting the dangerous looks on net.
The Rocket had the first power play of the game with Raddysh being sent to the box for boarding, but even with the extra man, the first play on the Laval man advantage was a short-handed break for Gabriel Dumont. Timely stickwork from Daniel Audette broke the play up, and from there the power play seemed to find some life.
Alexandre Alain chipped the puck off the boards, and Matthew Struthers turned and fired a low risk shot on Pasquale. Luck was on Struthers’s side as his shot found the smallest of gaps on its way to the back of the net.
PTO Matthew Struthers gets his first AHL goal on a Rocket power play! pic.twitter.com/9zioWbBFyf— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 12, 2019
A Xavier Ouellet penalty forced the captain to sit for a minor of his own, but LaCouvee’s goaltending, and smart puck management from Lernout, killed the penalty and sent the teams into the intermission with Laval trailing by a goal.
After a strong showing at the end of the first, the Rocket were hoping to make the most of that in the second period. But a hook by Audette led to a second Crunch power play, and it took Carter Verhaeghe just 13 seconds to wrist one by LaCouvee, ending his night in net.
The onslaught didn’t stop there. Another penalty, this time by Alex Kile, put the Rocket short-handed for a third time. They killed this penalty, with Brook using his body to separate Alex Barre-Boulet from the puck behind the net to kill off the final few seconds.
It didn’t get much better as the Crunch added a fourth goal just after the midway point of the period on a scramble around the net. Michael McNiven slid across while reacting to a pass, leaving the net open. Verhaeghe gloved an errant puck down and knocked it into the open net, putting Syracuse firmly in control.
A late power play again gave the Rocket a chance to claw their way back into the game, but a disjointed man advantage failed to make much of an impact, and Laval headed into the second intermission trailing by three.
Heavily outmatched, the third period was one centred around pride for the Rocket — and hoping to escape without suffering more injuries.
The final 20 minutes started well enough. The Rocket and McNiven limited the dangerous chances, with the netminder flashing his glove hand on Raddysh before giving him a long look after.
Michael McNiven flashes the leather and then stares down Taylor Raddysh pic.twitter.com/jkmxyt9WhM— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 13, 2019
The second half of the period saw things unravel quickly as Pezzetta buried Gabriel Fortier with a big hit, then was immediately challenged by Cory Conacher for it. As Pezzetta got to his feet, the veteran pest ducked behind the official as the rookie tried to get at him. At the same time, Cal Foote and Brook continued to joust as officials attempted to pry them apart, earning each of them an early shower.
The ensuing power play saw Barre-Boulet rocket a shot by McNiven. If that wasn’t enough, the post-whistle nonsense continued, as Pezzetta and Nolan Valleau each got five for fighting and Cameron Gaunce took a seat for roughing up Alexandre Alain from behind. The final whistle blew with the Crunch having just two actual defenders left to play.
Laval wraps up its season tomorrow in Binghamton against the last-place Devils, and then faces what is sure to be another busy off-season.
1. Carter Verhaeghe (2 Goals, 1 Assist)
2. Alex Barre-Boulet (1 Goal, 2 Assists)
3. Cameron Gaunce (2 Assists)