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Laval @ Cleveland recap & highlights: Michael McNiven earns third consecutive win

The young netminder stopped 20 shots as Laval pummeled Cleveland once again.

Club du hockey Canadien/Laval Rocket

Less than a full day after the Rocket posted a lopsided victory over the Cleveland Monsters, the two team met once again to finish out their two-game series. On Thursday night, the already short-handed Rocket lost Cale Fleury during warm-ups, then went out and posted a five-goal effort, including a three-point performance by Yannick Veilleux. The physical forward wasn’t the only player to step up in a big way, as Jesperi Kotkaniemi added two points in his return to the lineup, and defender Nathanael Halbert played over 17 minutes as a last-minute insertion for Fleury.

After Cayden Primeau earned his fifth win in six starts, it was Michael McNiven between the pipes on Friday looking to earn his third straight victory since rejoining the Rocket.

It was a slightly sloppy start, as the Rocket surrendered the game’s first power play just over three minutes in, as Gustav Olofsson took a seat for interference. The penalty didn’t last long as Marko Dano was whistled for tripping just 10 seconds later, sending the game to four-on-four. Neither side took advantage of the extra space on the ice, keeping the game scoreless as the first period wore on.

A short advantage after another flurry of calls nearly resulted in the first goal of the game as Kotkaniemi continued his strong play with Veilleux, but Veilleux’s shot hit off the post, keeping the game scoreless as the first period reached its final minutes. The teams headed into the first intermission with Laval holding a 7-2 shot advantage.

McNiven had to be sharp to start the second period as the Monsters came out of the gates flying around the offensive zone. He fought off a quality chance by Derek Barach and again had to face another Cleveland power play as Laurent Dauphin sat for a tripping minor. A strong effort by Maxim Lamarche led to another flawless kill by the Rocket, and eventually to another power play as the Monsters were caught with too many men on the ice. Even as the power play was shifted to a short five-on-three, the Rocket were not able to convert on their advantage.

After Brad Thiessen denied every Laval chance, the Rocket finally managed to solve him late in the second period. Alexandre Alain passed up to Laurent Dauphin, who worked off the wall in Cleveland’s zone. Dauphin held up for a second before throwing a pass to the left side of the Monsters’ net, where Joe Cox was able to steer it home on his backhand to finally give Laval a much-deserved lead.

Laval added another goal with under two minutes left to play. Joseph Blandisi dug the puck out of a scrum and found Veilleux all alone in the slot. He rifled his shot into the back of the net to give Laval a two-goal lead.

Unfortunately for the Rocket, William Pelletier put the penalty-killers in another tough spot late in the second, and with six seconds left on the clock Marko Dano got a piece of a Dillon Simpson shot to cut into Laval’s lead, making it a one goal affair heading into the third period.

Without Kotkaniemi, who had left the game due to an injury in the middle period, the Rocket still managed to restore the two-goal lead early in the third. Dauphin picked off a pass in the neutral zone and quickly sent a pass up to Jake Lucchini. Lucchini skated up the left side of Cleveland’s zone before uncorking a perfect wrist shot to make it a 3-1 game.

Lucchini helped the Rocket push the game further out of reach for Cleveland. Antoine Waked sent him into the Cleveland zone with speed, and with plenty of space to work with Lucchini fired a shot far-side and in to make it a three-goal Laval lead.

The Rocket and McNiven weathered a strong Cleveland push-back late in the third, but thanks to Brett Gallant’s temper, Laval was able to gain a late power play to help bleed the clock down. They did better than that, as on the advantage Olofsson walked the blue line and snapped a shot that Cox managed to redirect, sealing the game for good.

Final Score: Laval 5, Cleveland 1

Up next on the schedule is a massive showdown with the Belleville Senators on Wednesday night at Place Bell. With the Binghamton Devils also winning last night the Rocket now sit just outside of the last playoff spot in the division based on points percentages.