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Rocket vs. Phantoms recap & highlights: ‘We’re playing not to lose instead of trying to win’

For the second straight game, Laval falls in overtime.

Club de hockey Canadien

The Laval Rocket scored in the third period to force overtime, but for the second day in a row they fell in the extra frame, falling 3-2 to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms on Saturday evening at Place Bell in Laval.

After a Nicolas Beaudin tripping penalty, Cam York fired a shot past Kevin Poulin with 2:16 remaining in overtime. Beaudin was trying to tie up a stick, but ended up bringing down the Phantoms player.

“I didn’t like the penalty,” said Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle. “It was a bad penalty at a bad moment,” he said.

Saturday’s game finished off a six-game homestand that saw the Rocket win only one game, finishing 1-3-2. They moved to 2-6-3 on the season.

“Our mentality right now is that we’re playing not to lose instead of trying to win,” said Rocket forward Danick Martel. “We start the game and we’re already thinking about not losing instead of wanting to win, wanting to attack, wanting to take the lead.”

The game started with chances at both ends. Mattias Norlinder had a shot saved, and on the same shift drove into the zone and had a backhand shot from the slot that was also saved.

Justin Barron had a shot blocked and it led to a Max Willman breakaway, but Kevin Poulin was able to make the save. The Phantoms had another breakaway when Garrett Wilson found himself behind the defence but it was also saved by Poulin, who had a solid first period making 17 saves.

He came up big midway through the period when Wilson had another chance in close, and the rebound made its way to Kevin Connauton who fired a shot glove side, but Poulin made a windmill save to keep the score 0-0.

Lehigh Valley had the first power play of the game, and capitalized on a rough sequence for the Laval penalty kill. Madison Bowey lost his stick early while the Phantoms were set up, and while Gabriel Bourque was trying to get his stick to the defender, they lost the stick in the transfer leaving two sticks on the ice and two players without one.

The Phantoms continued moving the puck, and during play Lehigh Valley moved both sticks. Eventually, Cal O’Reilly lost Bourque’s coverage, received the puck at the left circle and fired the shot over Poulin.

Laval players and coaches were calling for an interference penalty for the sticks being moved. Rule 53.2 in the AHL Rulebook stipulates that as long as a player is not attempting to retrieve the stick, and the stick being moved doesn’t interfere with an ongoing play, no penalty should be called. Because the Rocket penalty killers were in the box, they weren’t actively trying to retrieve the stick, trying to maintain their defensive position.

It gave Lehigh Valley the lead almost 12 minutes into the first period. They also outshot the Rocket 18-9 in the opening 20 minutes. They had a second power play chance but did not score.

“It’s been four or five games in a row we are playing from behind, and we have to give everything to get back into the game,” said Houle about the team’s slow start. “It fatigues players, it’s how I explain it, and it’s unforgivable.”

“We lost the game in the first period,” Houle said.

The Rocket came out much better in the second period. Corey Schueneman, who wanted the puck on his stick all the time, hit the post around five minutes into the period. The Phantoms came right back after that sequence, with Ronnie Attard getting a chance, but Poulin once again made the save.

The back-and-forth action continued. Norlinder found a pinching Tory Dello at the side of the net, but Phantoms goaltender Samuel Ersson made the save. The play went the other way, and Garrett Wilson had a breakaway, but was saved, and he then barrelled into Poulin but there was no penalty called on the play.

Laval finally did get their first power play chance of the game, but were unable to convert and the score remained 1-0. Gabriel Bourque had a couple of chances on the shift after the power play, but Ersson was there to make the saves.

The Rocket finally tied the game with under four minutes remaining in the period when Peter Abbandonato fired his second goal of the season past Ersson.

The tie game did not last long. Just 1:36 after the Rocket tied it, another neutral zone turnover became a Phantoms two-on-one.

Zayde Wisdom found Olle Lycksell, and the rookie made no mistake getting the puck past Poulin’s outstretched pad to give Lehigh Valley a 2-1 lead entering the third period.

The Rocket started off the third period strong with two chances within the first minute. Midway through the period, Norlinder once again tried to find Brandon Gignac, but Gignac was once again stopped by Ersson. Gignac has had several opportunities over the last few games, but is still sitting on two goals on the season.

Finally, with 6:22 remaining, Anthony Richard broke in on a partial breakaway behind the Phantoms defence, and but the shot five-hole on Ersson to tie the game. Martel was the one to spring the Rocket forward, who now has six goals this season.

Gignac had another chance with three minutes remaining when Rafaël Harvey-Pinard fed him for a chance, but it was saved by Ersson. The play did draw a penalty, which gave the Rocket a power play with just under three minutes to go. They were unable to capitalize on the chance, and the game went to overtime.


Aside from Kevin Poulin starting in goal, there was one change to the personnel, with Madison Bowey entering the lineup for Alex Green. Otto Leskinen and Green were healthy scratches. Alex Belzile missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury.

Mitchell Stephens was moved to the wing on the fourth line. He had a very good third period, showing intensity, getting involved physically and generating scoring chances.

“It was absolutely a message,” said Houle. “He has to be a lot better. He’s a veteran in this league and he has to be a lot better. Simple as that. Look at his stats, he has to be better, and he knows it.”

Stephens has two assists on the season, and was ejected from the first game of the year which led to a two-game suspension.