A struggling Rocket side that is absolutely decimated by injuries was limping into their final four games of the season looking for whatever positives they could find. They were up 2-0 on the Cleveland Monsters on Friday night before falling 3-2 thanks to a late goal in the third period from the opponent. Now in their last home game of the season, they welcomed the Hershey Bears to Place Bell to hopefully give the crowd a proper finale with a strong effort.
Washington Capitals star goaltending prospect Ilya Samsonov started for the Bears, while Connor LaCouvee got the nod for the Rocket on Saturday afternoon.
A quiet start from both team was suddenly broken up when a lazy pass out of the corner by a Bears defender ended up a Philippe Hudon’s stick, and Samsonov had to make a sprawling pad save to deny the Rocket forward a goal.
Phelix Martineau tripped up a Bears player on the following faceoff, sending Laval to the game’s first penalty kill. A solid showing prevented Hershey from taking a lead on their man advantage, and the play resumed at five-on-five.
LaCouvee fended off a handful of chances by the Bears to keep it a scoreless game heading into the first intermission, but not before the final whistle saved Samsonov from allowing a Daniel Audette slapshot goal, with the puck trickling just wide as the horn went.
The second period helped to shift the momentum firmly into the Rocket’s favour as Laval took the lead on the shot counter, then the scoreboard in the middle frame.
After it looked like the Rocket conceded to the heavy Bears pressure, they got the luckiest of breaks to open up the scoring. Tobias Geisser fired a lazy pass that Hudon picked off, and the tryout fed a pass to Hayden Verbeek, who beat Samsonov blocker side to break the deadlock.
Hayden Verbeek goes blocker side to put the Rocket up 1-0. pic.twitter.com/AJ3RqKsNHp— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 7, 2019
Nikita Jevpalovs broke out the nifty dangles at the expense of Aaron Ness to nearly double the Laval lead, but a quick reaction by Samsonov denied the Latvian a highlight-reel goal. LaCouvee was called upon with under seven minutes left to shut down a great chance by Michael Sgarbossa, lunging across to deny the AHL vet a tying goal.
The Bears got another chance on the power play after Brett Lernout tripped a Hershey player up following a big hit. The Rocket penalty-killers again showed their mettle as they denied Hershey any real chances on net, and headed off the ice with a well-deserved one-goal lead.
If the Rocket’s second period shifted the momentum to the attacking end of the ice, the third period was them making the most of it — and doing so with authority. Just 2:41 in, Thomas Ebbing converted a pass from Morgan Adams-Moisan from behind the net to double the Rocket advantage.
Morgan Adams-Moisan intercepts a pass, Thomas Ebbing snipes to put Laval up 2-0. pic.twitter.com/7jNVtS8ExF— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 7, 2019
Then the flood of goals began and the Bears were left reeling before they ever had a chance to catch their breath.
The Rocket’s leading scorer, Alex Belzile, got in on the scoring with just over five minutes gone as he coolly lifted home a backhand shot for his 19th goal of the year. Jevpalovs picked a streaking Belzile out, and Samsonov had no chance as the Rocket forward was in all alone on net.
Nikita Jevpalovs with the perfect feed and Alex Belzile roofs a slick backhander.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 7, 2019
3-0 Rocket. pic.twitter.com/daHczRoFYG
Then, the Rocket captain got in on the action, making it three goals for Laval in a little over three minutes to seemingly put the game out of reach. Xavier Ouellet collected a back-pass from Verbeek and fired a harmless wrist shot on net, but it deflected off a Hershey player in front, floating over Samsonov for a fourth Laval goal.
Xavier Ouellet with a floater from the point, and it's 4-0 Rocket. pic.twitter.com/EihxxmesRQ— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 7, 2019
Jevpalovs was guilty of interference moments after Ouellet’s goal, sending Laval to a third straight penalty kill. Again the Rocket special-teams unit came up big, keeping LaCouvee’s shutout intact early in the third period.
The bid would unfortunately be broken by Steve Whitney just past the halfway point of the period. A quick pass from Jayson Megna to Whitney allowed the latter to snap his shot by LaCouvee and end the run of Laval goals.
Things got a bit nervy from there, as a few minutes later the Bears found a second goal, and turned a potential rout into a much closer contest. The puck worked its way around the Laval defensive zone, eventually being teed up for Maximilian Kammerer, who blew the puck by LaCouvee.
Luckily for the Rocket, the Bears own mistake ended up in the back of their own net, and sealed the win for Laval. A puck came out of the corner, last touched by Michael Pezzetta, and Whitney attempted to clear it away from danger, but his backhand attempt went into the Bears’ net.
If that wasn’t bad enough, with around a minute left, Pezzetta uncorked a heavy shot that dropped Samsonov, and forced him from the game as a precaution.
For the Rocket, a big win in front of nearly 9000 fans in their final home game of the year is a huge deal, as they’ll now end their final three games on the road. First up are the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Wednesday night, then the season finishes on Friday and Saturday in Syracuse and Binghamton.
1. Nikita Jevpalovs (1 Assist)
2. Maxim Lamarche (1 Assist)
3. Philippe Hudon (1 Assist)