The Laval Rocket opened up a 3-0 lead early in the third period and held on through a frantic finish to beat the Syracuse Crunch 3-2 on Saturday night at Place Bell in Laval for a huge two points and to win their fourth straight game.
Laval was outshot 35-15 but managed to come away with the win because of great and timely goaltending by Keith Kinkaid. Kinkaid was booed and mocked by the crowd in his last home start, a game he left due to cramping after two periods, but won his next two.
“I’ve been putting the work in and it’s good to see it come to fruition,” Kinkaid said. “Sometimes you have to steal some games every now and then and the boys did their job to pot a few.”
“I really think it’s due to his work ethic,” said Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard. “The last two weeks he’s worked really hard with [goaltending coach] Marco Marciano, with Sean Burke when he spent time here. I see a difference between the goaltender now and the goaltender from a few weeks ago.”
“He did a hell of a job tonight,” said Rocket forward Kevin Lynch who had an assist in the win. “He was back there when we needed him.”
“That was a game where the other team was better than us,” said Bouchard. “We bent but we didn’t break. We still made some nice defensive plays and Kinkaid was excellent and our goaltending made the difference.”
Laval started the game off slow, getting outshot 9-0 before getting an opportunity on the power play with under five minutes remaining in the first period. On the ensuing face off, Michael McCarron won the puck back cleanly to Xavier Ouellet. He juggled the puck and just managed to keep it in the zone. He then settled it down and fired a long shot that beat Zach Fucale, who was making his first AHL start of the season against his former team.
“I saw the puck on the blue line, that wasn’t my goal, but from my angle it didn’t go out. I continued to play, put the puck on net and it went in,” said Ouellet. It was his fourth straight game with a goal, a stretch he says he hasn’t had since playing junior hockey.
It was the Rocket’s only shot of the first period, but the score was 1-0 after one period despite Laval being outshot 11-1. Kinkaid had to make several big stops in the period including a breakaway on Jimmy Huntington and a post to post save on Alexander Volkov.
“In the first period he really gave us a chance to play with the lead,” Ouellet said about his goaltender.
In the second period, Syracuse’s best chance was when a Cal Foote shot rang the post behind Kinkaid. Laval had some chances of their own, but Fucale shut the door and the score would remain 1-0 after two periods.
Laval opened the third period by extending their lead. Otto Leskinen made a cross-ice feed to Yannick Veilleux who blasted a shot past Fucale from the circle less than a minute into the period.
Yannick Veilleux s'inspire de Charles Hudon et marque du cercle droit!— Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) January 5, 2020
Yannick Veilleux shows off his best Charles Hudon impression and scores from the right circle!#SYRvsLAV #WitnessTheFuture #IciLAVenir #GoRocket pic.twitter.com/wHX1ah9hj5
It was Veilleux’s fourth goal in only six games since signing a professional try out contract with the team.
Less than five minutes later, the Rocket extended their lead again. Lynch made a great play at the Rocket blue line and led Ralph Cuddemi, another player on a try out contract, on a breakaway who made a perfect shot off the post and in for his second goal of the season.
“They’re guys who are getting an opportunity,” said Bouchard about the two goal scorers. “They are taking advantage of it. We’ll see how it will go for them in the next few days. We’re asking a lot of them and they’re doing a good job.”
The Crunch would not back down, using unconventional methods to claw their way back into the game. Down 3-0, Benoit Groulx pulled Fucale for the extra attacker with a power play with over 10 minutes remaining in the period as Veilleux was off for tripping. The move would pay off as Alex Barre-Boulet fired a shot past Kinkaid from the circle on a one-timer.
He would continue going all-in. With under five minutes remaining, Syracuse once again pulled Fucale to get a 6-on-5 advantage, and once again it worked. A perfect cross ice feed from Mathieu Joseph to Boris Katchouk would leave an easy tap in and it suddenly was 3-2 with 4:38 remaining.
It was reminiscent of New Year’s Eve when the Rocket allowed the Belleville Senators to force a shootout after taking a 3-0 lead in the third period. This time, however, the defence and Kinkaid held strong and allowed Laval to take a huge two points from a division rival in regulation.
Laval now has five straight games on the road and seven of their next eight away from Place Bell. With every game being important, the playoff push will continue for the Rocket, who are currently on a four-game winning streak.