On a night where the Columbus Blue Jackets officially eliminated the Montreal Canadiens from the NHL playoffs, their logo was on equipment bags lining the hallway of Place Bell where their AHL affiliate Cleveland Monsters overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat the Laval Rocket 3-2 on Friday night.
The Monsters opened up a three point lead on the final playoff spot over the Belleville Senators.
The Rocket had a 2-0 lead, but entered the third period tied 2-2 and the game remained tied until Derek Barach scored his second goal of the game with under three minutes remaining as the puck snuck past Michael McNiven.
“That’s hockey,” said Rocket defender Brett Lernout. “It’s a game of mistakes and the mistakes cost us.”
“We have a lot of young players and they have to learn it’s no longer a beauty contest, it’s based on your performance even if we’re focused on development,” said Rocket coach Joël Bouchard. “We were still in the game with three minutes left. We gave ourselves a chance.”
Laval opened the scoring on a delayed penalty when Karl Alzner fed Alex Belzile who fired one past Monsters goaltender Brad Thiessen just 3:42 into the game.
They doubled their lead in the second period when Brett Lernout fired a long shot from the point that beat Thiessen.
The Monsters scored just 1:05 after Lernout’s goal as Barach scored his first of the game to make it 2-1, and Cleveland outshot the Rocket 13-5 in the second period and 25-16 overall. Bouchard was happy with the play of his defence. He dressed seven defenders and 11 forwards and pushed his defence as they have more experience over their young group at forward.
“I don’t think that they were grade A scoring chances where we just got picked apart,” Bouchard said. “I thought we defended really well. I have to look at the full 60 minutes, not where the goals went in, how they went in.”
Cleveland tied the game with 22 seconds remaining in the second period, and while goals in the last minute sometimes shift momentum, Bouchard felt the team came out strong in the third and wouldn’t use the timing of the goal as an excuse.
Dressing only 11 forwards because Bouchard wanted to give newly-signed Philippe Hudon a chance to watch before being pushed into game action, and due to a bunch of injuries including Lukas Vejdemo, Jake Evans, Antoine Waked, Alexandre Grenier, and Alexandre Alain. The Rocket had good performances from a number of their young group including Nikita Jevpalovs.
It was also the first professional game for undrafted Matthew Struthers who signed an amateur try out contract with Laval.
Bouchard knows Struthers from his time with the Canadian Under-17 program. With less than a minute left, Struthers was put on the ice with McNiven pulled to try and tie the game.
“He had a good game,” said Bouchard. “He had 30 goals in junior which is more than a lot of our players have this year. It’s nothing vicious on my part. He has a flair for the net.”
“He said ‘You have a knack for the net so go stand there and get in the goalie’s way’ so I tried to do my best and we had a couple of chances, too bad we couldn’t get one,” Struthers said.
He didn’t look out of place in his first professional game, implicating himself offensively throughout. He created one chance in particular in the third period, but Morgan Adams-Moisan just couldn’t finish the pass into the slot.
“Obviously I expected it would be a lot faster and it was just that,” Struthers said. “I had a bit of nerves but I got the first shift out of the way and went from there.”
The Rocket play their final home game of the season on Saturday afternoon against the Hershey Bears. Next week, they play three more times on the road to close out their season.
“It’s not the season we wanted again,” Lernout said. “But overall the guys here have a pretty good attitude. No one’s turning on each other no one’s getting really negative and that’s what you need with a young team.”