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Laval vs. Syracuse recap & highlights: The Rocket start their homestand with a big win

Some timely scoring from some depth players pushed the Rocket to big win at home.

Club de Hockey Canadien

On a day when the Montreal Canadiens shook up their coaching staff with the firing of Dominique Ducharme, the Laval Rocket kicked off a three-game series against the Syracuse Crunch, with plenty on the line for themselves. The Crunch sat right behind the Rocket in the chase for a North Division playoff spot, despite the Rocket having games in hand.

In terms of good news, the Rocket were bolstered by the insertion of Sami Niku into the lineup after he went through waivers prior to the All-Star break. However, injuries still hampered the team, as Alex Belzile, Lukas Vejdemo. J.-S. Dea, and Gianni Fairbrother were all unavailable, while Gabriel Bourque was a game-time decision.

It was a quick start for the Rocket as they scored on their first shot of the game. The fourth line forechecked into the offensive zone and forced a turnover by Anthony Richard. Cam Hillis was able to pick up the errant pass and snapped his third goal of the year by Amir Miftakhov for the early Laval lead.

The goal gave the Rocket a much needed spark to start the game, and allowed a very depleted lineup to settle in quickly against a tough Syracuse side. While Laval was controlling the shots, some long offensive zone stretches by the Crunch forced Kevin Poulin and the Rocket defence to stay on their toes at all times.

The Rocket pressure continued to pay dividends as the fourth line struck once more with just over six minutes remaining in the period. Alexandre Fortin left a puck off for Louie Belpedio, who drove hard toward the Crunch net. Belpedio loaded up a wristshot that Miftakhov saved, but he kicked a rebound just out of his own reach and Hillis jumped on the puck to slot home his second goal of the night.

The Crunch were finally able to claw one goal back after a defensive lapse left Gabriel Dumont open in the slot. Richard worked the puck low behind Poulin’s net and picked out Dumont, who snapped his 17th goal of the year past the Rocket netminder to cut into Laval’s lead. Dumont’s goal gave some life back to the Crunch as the two sides headed into the first intermission with the Rocket holding on to their one-goal advantage.

It was another quick start for Laval in the second period as they added a third goal under a minute in. Kevin Roy worked off the right boards, finding Peter Abbandonato marauding toward the slot as a screen worked in front. Crunch defender Alex Green clipped the skate of goaltender Corbin Kaczperski knocking him down and allowing Abbandonato an open net to fire home his third goal of the season.

The Crunch kept the Rocket fairly well in check despite the goal difference with Kaczperski standing tall against multiple odd-man chances, but before long the Rocket found the back of the net once again.

Abbandonato won the faceoff draw back to Belpedio and the Laval defender cracked a heavy shot off the posterior of a Crunch player in the slot. Belpedio was able to collect the blocked shot and work deep into the zone, and when he hit the goal line he fooled the Crunch goalie and buried his sixth goal of the season.

A late penalty kill forced the Rocket to remain sharp, but Poulin stood his ground and Laval was able to keep the Crunch from cutting into their lead. The two sides headed into the second intermission with the Rocket doing well clamping down defensively, and the Crunch looking for any kind of break in the third period.

The third period’s fast start belonged to the Crunch instead of the Rocket, and just 18 seconds in they had cut the Rocket lead down to two. Anthony Richard was open down the right wing on an odd-man rush and with all the space in the world he wired a shot over Kevin Poulin’s shoulder for his first goal in a Syracuse sweater.

The sides settled into a game of giving the puck away back and forth, as neither side really claimed a strong grip on the period despite the Crunch needing two more goals. With the minutes melting off the clock it seemed like Laval was content to coast out the final third of the period, but an interference penalty on Cam Hillis forced the penalty-killers into a massive situation to try to keep the Rocket two-goal lead intact.

Just 30 seconds into the power play, the Crunch opted to pull their netminder for a six-on-four advantage, putting more pressure on the Rocket special-teams group. The Rocket won a crucial draw, then picked off Alex Barre-Boulet’s attempted pass to Charles Hudon, allowing Bourque to bury the short-handed, empty-net goal and restore the three-goal lead for Laval.

A late tripping call sent the Rocket to their first power play of the night, allowing them to easily see out the final moments and secure a much-needed victory to snap their mini losing streak. Joël Teasdale added his first of the year on that power play to seal the win for the Rocket in emphatic fashion.

Final Score: Laval 6, Syracuse 2

The Rocket are off until Friday now, when they’ll see the Crunch once again, in what is sure to be a highly competitive affair.