Following a disappointing opening weekend against the Belleville Senators, the Laval Rocket returned to the home confines of Place Bell for on Wednesday night. Taking the ice against them was their opponent from last year’s Eastern Conference Final, the Springfield Thunderbirds.
With Mitchell Stephens serving the second game of his suspension, Nate Schnarr drew into the lineup for a second game in a row. Also back was rookie William Trudeau on defence, getting the nod over Alex Green on the third pair alongside Madison Bowey. In net was Cayden Primeau who was in search of his first win of the season after losing in overtime on Friday.
It looked like the Rocket had opened the scoring in under a minute thanks to a great counterattack led by Danick Martel. The veteran winger broke in and got a shot on Joel Hofer that popped up in the air, and landed on his net. Brandon Gignac rushed the net, smacking the puck off the netting and then poking it home, but a review led to the ruling it was played with a high stick and the game remained scoreless.
Brandon Gignac scores a goal...By smacking the puck off the top of the net, off the goalie and in! pic.twitter.com/9PXZwNNJaJ— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 19, 2022
The two sides continued to trade chances, with Primeau snagging a Tyler Tucker shot with his glove, and Hofer denying Rafaël Harvey-Pinard in front with a pad save. Laval drew the first power play of the game, and they generated a few close calls but the Thunderbirds survived the early pressure to return the game to even strength.
The Rocket’s speed gave the Springfield defence fits, while the heavy cycle of the Thunderbirds kept the Laval group on their heels. The Rocket’s pace gave them the edge as they drew back-to-back penalties thanks to their pressure, and while the first one came up without a goal despite Jesse Ylönen hammering the cross bar, they started period two on the advantage as well.
Laval’s power play was quickly cancelled out as Harvey-Pinard was whistled for holding, pushing the play to four-on-four before a brief Springfield power play. Again the Rocket’s speed kept the Thunderbirds off-kilter to the point that their power play was instantly neutralized, and then they put Laval back on their own man advantage.
The power play struggles continued to hound the Rocket as they were unable to convert for a fourth time, then to compound the issue they had a penalty of their own to kill as Xavier Simoneau went to the box. For every bit that the power play looked off the pace, the penalty kill looked dialed in, as they frustrated any Springfield attempts to tee up Martin Frk for his massive slapshot.
As the second period wore on, it was the Thunderbirds starting to take over the game, finding a way to prevent the Rocket from using their speed and beginning to impose their heavy style of play. As the Thunderbirds cycled hard, Primeau was determined to not allow any follow-up chances on net and keep the game scoreless.
As the period was coming to a close, the intense forecheck returned for Laval and only a strong save from Joel Hofer kept Laval from scoring a goal in the dying seconds of the period.
The pressure finally paid off for Laval with just over four minutes gone in the third period. The Rocket countered out of their own zone, with Schnarr firing a leading pass for Otto Leskinen into the offensive zone. Leskinen fired the puck across the zone for Gabriel Bourque, who rifled it by Hofer to break the deadlock.
Rocket goal!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) October 20, 2022
: Gabriel Bourque (3)
: Otto Leskinen
: Nate Schnarr pic.twitter.com/nCu5NRyfXY
Springfield nearly tied it up just afterward as a shot got through to Primeau and the Rocket goalie failed to locate the loose puck. Greg Printz did find it, but he was denied an open-net goal thanks to a strong stick along the goal line by Justin Barron to keep Laval in the lead.
The Rocket spent much of the period doing their best to weather the repeated attacks from Springfield as the visitor pushed hard for a tying goal. As he had been all night, Primeau was keeping them at bay with aplomb. In the final four minutes, however, the Rocket had to contend with a crucial penalty kill as Tory Dello went to the box for high-sticking.
The penalty-killers, without one of their main pieces, did incredibly well to keep the Thunderbirds shooters locked down, and escaped the kill unscathed to keep a tenuous lead intact.
There was one last challenge for the Rocket to overcome as the Thunderbirds pulled Hofer in the final 1:55 of the game to try to find the tying goal once more. Some key blocks by Mattias Norlinder allowed Dello to eventually corral the puck and launch it into the empty net to seal the win.
Final Score: Rocket 2, Thunderbirds 0
With their first win in their back pocket, the Rocket now head on the road to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for a showdown with the Penguins on Friday night, with a 7:05 PM puck drop scheduled.