Coming off of a 5-2 loss to the Toronto Marlies on Sunday, the Laval Rocket hoped to get their playoff hunt back on track against another divisional rival on Wednesday night. The Utica Comets, who held the third playoff spot in the AHL’s North Division prior to the game, managed to resist an onslaught of 30 shots and hold on for a narrow 3-2 victory over the fifth-place Rocket.
A victory would have put the Rocket within four points of the Comets, but now Utica sits alone in second place while the Rocket are in a three-way tie for the fourth and final spot.
It was another one of those games where the Rocket dominated the large majority of play and yet didn’t come out on top. From the get-go Laval was buzzing. The fourth line made up of Yannick Veilleux, Laurent Dauphin and Antoine Waked was absolutely dominant, and continued to be until the end of the game. The Rocket only allowed 19 shots on goal, but the Comets did just enough to skate away with the very important two points.
The dominance of that fourth line is what allowed Otto Leskinen to net his second goal of the season just 2:38 into the opening frame to give the Rocket an early lead. Their physicality and speed wore down their opponents, which paved the way for Leskinen’s wrist shot to find its way through traffic and behind Mikey DiPietro, whose goaltending was largely responsible for Utica’s victory. Josh Brook and Laurent Dauphin were credited with the assists on the play.
The Rocket take an early lead against the Comets thanks to this shot from Otto Leskinen! pic.twitter.com/RWmJeRik8e— Sarah Kossits (@skossits) February 13, 2020
By the midway mark of the period, the Rocket were outshooting the Comets 5-1 and their divisional rival barely had any offensive-zone time at all. Utica’s first real scoring opportunity came with approximately eight minutes remaining in the period, as Steven Johns was left alone in the slot to pick up a loose rebound. Cayden Primeau, who made 16 saves in the loss, robbed Johns of a sure goal to keep his team ahead by one.
More than halfway through the period the Rocket maintain their 1-0 lead, in part due to this amazing save by Primeau pic.twitter.com/HCiVrhaf6W— Sarah Kossits (@skossits) February 13, 2020
Two consecutive penalties called against Laval gave the Comets a lengthy two-man advantage near the end of the first. Though a Utica penalty quickly brought it back to a one-man advantage, the Comets still netted a power-play goal on the sequence. Jonah Gadjovich tucked the loose puck in front of the net behind Primeau, getting Utica back in the game despite being down 8-6 in shots.
Dauphin’s hard work and hustle nearly earned him a goal early in the second period. Though it was a net-front scramble that was hard to see, the referee standing right behind the net aggressively gestured and indicated that he believed that the puck had crossed the goal line, giving the Rocket a 2-1 lead. However, video review apparently showed that the puck never went in, keeping the game tied at one.
Both teams exchanged penalties within a minute of one another after Laval’s disallowed goal, and the Rocket were able to take the lead for real on their ensuing power play. Veilleux, who had learned the day prior that he would be finishing the season in Laval, roofed the puck with power and precision over DiPietro’s shoulder from a difficult angle. Dauphin picked up his second assist of the night on the goal, with Alexandre Alain picking up his first.
The day after Veilleux gets the news that he'll be staying until the end of the season, he roofs one behind DiPietro to give the Rocket a 2-1 lead late in the second pic.twitter.com/e4gNwDygsX— Sarah Kossits (@skossits) February 13, 2020
However, with Evan McEneny sitting for goaltender interference late in the period, Sven Baertschi scored his team’s second power-play goal of the night to tie the game with a little more than two minutes to play in the second. Primeau had little to no chance of stopping Baertschi’s impressive backhander.
Baertschi's very nice backhand brings this game back to a tie pic.twitter.com/Wg7Blkc1wk— Sarah Kossits (@skossits) February 13, 2020
An unfortunate turnover from Charles Hudon 36 seconds into the third saw Reid Boucher, who has the second-most goals in the league, skate in alone against Primeau and sneak the puck under his blocker to give Utica their first (and only) lead of the night.
Hudon with a bad giveaway at the start of the third and the Rocket trail for the first time tonight pic.twitter.com/DO7A2Eo4tM— Sarah Kossits (@skossits) February 13, 2020
The Rocket had a couple of chances to tie the game during the final 20 minutes of play with three power plays, and then with Primeau on the bench for the extra attacker, but they were ultimately unable to get another one behind the Comets’ netminder.
Final Score: Utica 3, Laval 2
The Rocket will next head to Hartford where they will take on the Wolf Pack on Friday evening in hopes of regaining momentum in the North Division’s ever-changing playoff race.