After struggling through one of their worst stretches of the season less than a month ago, one that saw the Rocket fall well back of the playoff race, the team battled its way back into that chase. Three straight wins, including back-to-back victories over the Toronto Marlies and Belleville Senators, left them just one point out of the final playoff spot in the North Division. Standing in their way on Friday night was yet another season-long bogeyman, the Rochester Americans.
The last time the two teams clashed it was marred by Keith Kinkaid scoring on himself, and Charles Hudon being ejected for a late hit at centre ice. Since then the Rocket were entirely remade under Joël Bouchard’s direction, shipping out a trio of underperforming veterans and bringing in some new faces to rebuild the lineup.
Unfortunately for Bouchard, he came into this critical game minus Hudon, Jake Evans, Karl Alzner, and Xavier Ouellet, who were with the NHL club, and also missing Jesperi Kotkaniemi, out due to illness. The return of the hard-working Joe Cox and offensive-minded Otto Leskinen helped to lessen the blow, while a resurgent Cayden Primeau started between the pipes.
Laval jumped into it right off the opening draw, with Ryan Poehling collecting an aerial pass and breaking in alone on Andrew Hammond. As Poehling went to get his shot off his stick failed, harmlessly dribbling the puck into Hammond’s pads.
The Americans quickly countered, forcing Primeau into a desperation save with his glove and pad. Unfortunately for Primeau, the next shot he faced after the faceoff trickled in under his pad, putting the Rocket down just over two minutes into the game.
Laval gained a chance to tie the game up with the first power play of the night as Sean Malone sat for a cross-check. The Rocket power play, minus its main attacking pieces, created a handful of chances, but Hammond stood tall to send the Laval shots out of play and away from his net to keep Rochester in the lead.
As the teams traded hits and scoring chances, the Americans still kept their one-goal advantage, but a sloppy line change sent Laval back to the man advantage on a too many men call. In the opening seconds Laval nearly tied the game, but an unchecked Poehlng sent his shot just wide from the back-post position.
Leskinen put Rochester on its first power play of the night, taking a high-sticking penalty with under two minutes left in the period. After killing a chunk of Leskinen’s minor, a shot from the point was launched sky-high, bouncing around in front of Primeau and his penalty-killers, it eventually landed on Casey Mittelstadt’s stick, and the Rochester forward had no issue making it a 2-0 game.
Ryan Culkin nearly halved that deficit, but his blast was saved by Hammond’s mask as the horn sounded, leaving Laval with a two-goal hole to work their way out of in the second period.
Laval opened the second with a massive chance, as Kevin Porter was ejected for a check to the head of Jake Lucchini. As the officials waited to whistle play dead, Nikita Jevpalovs fired a shot on Hammond that went straight up in the air, and just trickled off of Hammond’s back and in to cut the Rochester lead in half.
Jevpalovs makes it 2-1 with this wonky goal pic.twitter.com/vKSvHgZefD— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 29, 2020
The Rocket then had a five-minute advantage to work with, and in that time they managed two decent chances as the Rochester penalty-killers kept them contained to the outside. The major penalty came to an end, and the Rocket failed to take any sort of advantage from it, leaving them still trailing a goal approaching the midpoint of the game.
Laval followed up its lacking power play by taking a tripping penalty of their own, forcing their penalty-killers into a massive spot. They came through with flying colours, with Alexandre Alain and Poehling nearly converting short-handed to end the kill in style.
The Americans refused to go away, with Rasmus Asplund drawing a penalty shot as he split through the Rocket defence. The Swede took his shot, coming in slow, then cutting wide as Primeau kicked out his pad, but fired it high and wide, keeping Laval well in the game.
The Rocket then took advantage of a lazy play by the Amerks, with Cox snagging an errant pass creating an odd-man situation. Cox dished to Alain, who paused for a moment then slid a pass to Laurent Dauphin to roof his 12th goal of the year.
Flipper goes far corner and Laval has tied the game! pic.twitter.com/Ci69giNT0x— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 29, 2020
With momentum on their side, the Rocket headed into the intermission having battled out of an early deficit, and with a big chance to keep their winning streak alive.
They came out swinging to start the final period, and Cox’s hard work drew a hooking call, putting Laval on a massive power play early in the period. The man advantage threw everything at Hammond, testing the veteran netminder, but he refused to budge on anything, swallowing up every shot.
Laval nearly took the lead as Yannick Veilleux took advantage of a John Gilmour turnover, playing give-and-go with Antoine Waked. As the duo worked in on net they caught Hammond out of position with a yawning cage, but Veilleux pushed his chance just wide.
The Americans took control afterward, hemming in the Rocket and breaking the deadlock with Eric Cornel tipping a Will Borgen shot by Primeau to restore Rochester’s lead.
The Rocket struggled to get Primeau to the bench due to the Amerks’ defensive pressure, and once they did Rochester immediately added an empty-net goal.
Final Score: Rochester 4, Laval 2
The Rocket road trip wears on tomorrow as the team heads to Utica for a showdown with the Comets.