With seven games left in the season, the Laval Rocket were in a spot to do something that a Montreal Canadiens AHL affiliate hadn’t done in a long time: clinch a division title. All they needed was a single point against the Toronto Marlies, but they still had quite the challenge on their hands. They were without Alex Belzile and Cayden Primeau (recalled to the NHL), Joseph Blandisi, Michael Pezzetta, and Joel Teasdäle (season-ending injuries), and Ryan Poehling and Cale Fleury (day to day).
Xavier Ouellet was back in the lineup, as were Laurent Dauphin and Brandon Baddock. Joining them were Arsen Khisamutdinov, Jan Myšák, and Cam Hillis to round out the forward group. Michael McNiven got the start and looked to continue his hot streak after a shutout victory over the Belleville Senators in his last outing.
Despite having not played in over a week, Laval jumped out to a fast start, testing goaltender Joseph Woll twice in the opening minutes. The Marlies countered with Nic Petan buzzing around McNiven, but the Rocket netminder held firm to keep the game scoreless in the opening five minutes.
Things got a bit scary as Joseph Duszak needed assistance to get off the ice. A puck was dumped in, and as Duszak went to retrieve it he was met by Yannick Veilleux. Veilleux was in the process of delivering his hit as Duszak turned, and the whiplash had Duszak’s head smack off the glass and left him stunned and lying on the ice. He was helped to the locker room and no penalties were assessed on the play.
The Rocket did still have to kill the game’s first penalty as Ouellet was called for high-sticking. Even without their top penalty-killers, the Rocket dismissed the Marlies’ man advantage without much issue. Then, like everyone expected, Veilleux had to answer for his earlier hit. He and Marlies captain Rich Clune had a spirited fight, which ended in a spinning draw.
Well, this was always gonna happen.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 4, 2021
Rich Clune and Yannick Veilleux drop the gloves after Veilleux's earlier hit on Duszak pic.twitter.com/x1etL5ruRP
Before the period was over, the Rocket had a power-play chance of their own, marked by Jesse Ylönen blistering a shot off the crossbar and harmlessly away from the net. The period didn’t end quietly thanks to a stunning glove save from Michael McNiven to deny the Marlies’ Rourke Chartier a surefire goal off of an odd-man rush.
Michael McNiven take a bow sir!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 4, 2021
What a glove save by the Rocket goalie! pic.twitter.com/jAVAO953S8
The glove snag ensured the game entered the first intermission scoreless, with the shots tied 13-13.
Laval drew a power play less than 30 seconds into the second period, with Tyler Gaudet taking a seat for interference. However, it was the Marlies that struck first while short-handed as Jeremy McKenna wired his shot through a screened McNiven to open the scoring.
What followed the Toronto goal was a one-sided domination by the Rocket, as the team piled up chance after chance on Woll. They rang shots off the crossbar, both posts, and were denied on every other chance, but continued to push the play toward the opposing net.
By the end of the second period, the Rocket had fired 27 shots on Woll in the frame, and he had stopped every single one as the Marlies clung to their one-goal lead while being heavily outplayed.
Despite a frustrating second period, the Rocket continued their domination right off the opening puck drop. In the first 90 seconds of the third period the team fired six shots on Woll, and seemed destined to score in short order. They did just that on the next offensive-zone faceoff following an icing to relieve the pressure. Lukas Vejdemo won the draw clean to Ouellet, who blasted a shot by Woll and finally put Laval on the scoreboard.
The Rocket finally solve Woll with a bomb by Xavier Ouellet!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 5, 2021
1-1 early in the third! pic.twitter.com/x9HCTm1Ag5
Then it looked like the same story as the second period. The Rocket piled up chance after chance, but had to kill off a Veilleux minor penalty for cross checking. The penalty kill stood tall once again, and once the play got back to five-on-five they found a way to get themselves a much-deserved lead. Liam Hawel worked a puck across the blue line to Corey Schueneman, who let his shot fly through traffic on net. On its flight, Veilleux got just enough of it to steer it by Woll and put the Rocket in the lead.
Yannick Veilleux momentarily puts Laval up 2-1 with his 10th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/QiCY9cPuDP— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 5, 2021
... A lead that lasted just 16 seconds. The next event of the game was a Noel Hoefenmayer shot that snuck past McNiven, and the game was again knotted up.
Laval continued to control the flow of play, and it looked like they found a late game-winner thanks again to Veilleux. Dauphin fired a shot in from the slot, and a quick deflection with his skate allowed Veilleux to pot his 11th of the year and again put the Rocket on top.
Yannick Veilleux gives the Rocket the lead....again!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 5, 2021
3-2 Laval! pic.twitter.com/72eeST1DJh
Because the game of hockey isn’t always fair, the Marlies managed to tie it up with just over three minutes remaining, and forced the game to overtime. But with that point banked by getting to OT, the Rocket clinched the division title, the first in a decade for a Habs affiliate.
In overtime it was all Rocket, and again they were denied repeatedly, this time by the goalposts and not Woll. Veilleux was denied his hat trick, Jake Lucchini rang a pair of shots off the iron, and nothing would fall in the Rocket’s favour. Then it was Antti Suomela and Nic Petan who were able to break down the ice in an odd-man rush. Suomela fed Petan the puck, and that was all Toronto needed to steal a second point.
Final Score: Toronto 4, Laval 3 (OT)
Laval is now off for a few days before their next game on Friday against the Belleville Senators at 7:00 PM EDT.
- Joseph Woll (Win, 57 Saves)
- Yannick Veilleux (2 Goals)
- Nic Petan (1 Goal)