With the arrival of Rem Pitlick to the fold after clearing waivers earlier in the week, and the Laval Rocket still searching for regular consistency, their lineup heading into a three-games-in-three-nights weekend featured multiple changes. First was Pitlick slotting in on the second line alongside Anthony Richard and Xavier Simoneau. Team captain Alex Belzile returned from injury to round out the third line with Gabriel Bourque and Peter Abbandonato.
On defence, Nicolas Beaudin and Alex Green were notable absences, making way for a Madison Bowey and Tory Dello. J.-F. Houle also opted to change his goaltending strategy, giving Kevin Poulin the Friday night start in Utica over Cayden Primeau.
The early going was all about the goaltenders as Isaac Poulter had to weather an early Rocket attack, stopping some clean looks on net by Justin Barron and Mattias Norlinder. At the other end, Poulin was a wall between the pipes, even taking a full charge through his crease to keep the game scoreless through the opening minutes.
As the Comets began to mount more and more pressure and looked like they might spoil the Rocket’s hot start, Laval finally got a bit of luck. Otto Leskinen put a shot on net that Abbandonato began to hack away at. Gabriel Bourque got the last poke at the puck, knocking it over the line, but at first replay it also looked to have messed the net entirely. After a short review, it was found that the net was lifted off its moorings and the shot crossed through the newly created gap after crossing the line, so it stood as a good goal.
This was called on the ice as Gabriel Bourque's sixth goal of the season.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 12, 2022
I don't quite understand how. pic.twitter.com/8NsHDQefSz
A few minutes later, Pitlick made his first major impact in a Rocket sweater as he broke into the offensive zone and lifted a pass into the slot for Simoneau. The rookie forward hammered a chance on net, and Anthony Richard was all over the rebound to make it a two-goal game with his seventh goal of the year.
Rem Pitlick with a beautiful feed to the slot, and Anthony Richard cashes in on Xavier Simoneau's rebound pic.twitter.com/nnkyaQAY0m— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 12, 2022
Instead of things continuing in the Rocket’s favour, everything unravelled in the final four minutes of the frame. As Leskinen served a two-minute minor penalty for slashing, the Comets got on the board with Zach Senyshyn redirecting a shot in the slot for a power play marker. Then, with just under two minutes to play, a Nikita Okhotiuk shot was blocked just out of reach for Poulin and as he tried to poke it away, Samuel Laberge lifted it by him to tie the game up.
Just 16 seconds later, off a faceoff Corey Schueneman took a puck directly to the face, leaving him down and out of the play, allowing Andreas Jonsson to score with ease and give Utica a one-goal lead heading into the first intermission.
The Rocket came out as the stronger team to start the second period with Brandon Gignac and Pitlick getting clean looks on net, but fumbling the puck before getting a shot off, keeping Utica in the lead still. A Leskinen penalty again threatened to put the Rocket further in the hole, but the Laval penalty kill ended up being the more dangerous unit on the ice. Justin Barron collected a loose puck and sent Danick Martel ahead on an odd-man rush. Martel called his own number and buried his first goal of the year to tie the game while short-handed.
Danick Martel with the shorthanded goal to make it a 3-3 game in Utica! pic.twitter.com/FcgphcPteO— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 12, 2022
The penalty parade for Laval continued, with Gignac going off for high-sticking, and then just after Laval finished killing off his minor, Barron found himself in the box. Before the Rocket could escape the penalty, Richard found himself on his way to the locker room after collecting a two-minute minor and 10-minute misconduct for shooting a puck at an official.
Just 10 seconds into the two-man advantage, the Comets buried their chance to regain the lead, and left the Rocket still feeling frustrated. That frustration turned into a strong closing effort in the second period, and another goal as well. Alex Belzile handled a pass from the far offensive corner, firing a pass into the slot where Simoneau banged home his third goal of the year to send the sides to the second intermission all tied up.
Xavier Simoneau continues his fantastic run of form in the Laval top six.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 12, 2022
His third goal of the year makes it a 4-4 game! pic.twitter.com/8nM1yCf5Yh
The Rocket kept their pressure up as the third period began, forcing Poulter to make a number of outstanding saves, and eventually the relentless attack drew a Laval power play. Both waves of the man advantage had their chances, most notably with Abbandonato blistering a shot off the crossbar, and fooling the Rocket forward into think he had scored on the shot.
While the power play didn’t cash in, they got another opportunity as Richard drew a boarding call deep in the offensive zone. Again it looked like it was only a matter of time until Laval cashed in, but Poulter came up big as he dove across his crease to rob Pitlick on the goal line. To make matters worse, Belzile took a penalty as the power play expired, giving Utica a crucial man advantage with just over three minutes to play.
Laval’s penalty kill came up with a huge kill, and nearly won the game if not for a desperation blocker save on a fluttering puck by Poulter. The Rocket coasted out the final minute following the kill, and went to overtime in search of a second point.
In overtime, it took a full team effort, but the Rocket secured a much-needed victory on the back of some big KevinPoulin saves and a fantastic defensive effort by Pitlick. The Comets looked to break out into a two-on-one rush, but Pitlick backchecked hard and break up the play, allowing Barron to corral the puck. Barron picked his head up and fired a stretch pass to a streaking Richard, who buried the game-winning goal to snap the losing streak.
Justin Barron hits Anthony Richard with the home run pass, and Richard wins it in OT for Laval! pic.twitter.com/7VCvqCiB8U— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 12, 2022
Final Score: Laval 5, Utica 4 (OT)
The Rocket now head down into Pennsylvania for a Saturday night showdown in Allentown against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.