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Rocket vs. Crunch recap & highlights: Sweep success

Laval gets to the midway point of their schedule with a huge win.

Club de hockey Canadien

Entering the three-game homestand against the Syracuse Crunch, the Laval Rocket said they were looking at the games as a playoff series. If that were the case, they would be moving on to the next round after a 5-1 win on Saturday at Place Bell secured a three-game sweep.

Goaltender Kevin Poulin continued his strong play, making 38 of 39 saves while Jean-Sébastien Dea scored two goals, including one into an empty net. The Crunch were the team immediately behind the Rocket entering the weekend, and Laval gained five points.

“To us it was a very important game,” said Jean-François Houle on Saturday. “When you win two, you want to win the third one. Kevin has been playing well, he’s been hot, and sometimes as a coach you have to ride the hot hand. Poulin’s got it going right now. He’s big in the net, and not giving up many rebounds. [Friday] we only allowed 20 shots so we thought he was in good mental shape to play [Saturday].”

Poulin improved to 7-3-1 on the season.

It wasn’t the greatest start for the Rocket. Syracuse came out firing and outshot Laval 16-6 in the opening 20 minutes, but it was the home team that went into the intermission with a 2-0 lead.

Just over six minutes into the game, Peter Abbandonato and Joël Teasdale had a two-on-one break. Teasdale was stopped by Amir Miftakhov, but Justin Ducharme was there to pick up the rebound and scored his second goal of the season. They also happened to be the first two shots of the game for the Rocket.

Eight minutes later, the Rocket doubled their lead when Sami Niku made his appearance felt at the AHL level. The former AHL defenceman of the year took the puck, skated around defenders and powered to the net. His two shots were saved, but Dea was right there to put the rebound home.

It was Niku’s first point with the Rocket in his third game.

The first period had its share of physicality as the animosity of the three games in four days started to show. There were offsetting roughing penalties twice in the opening frame with former Rocket Charles Hudon involved in both.

Early in the second period, Teasdale scored his second of the season when he wired a shot from the slot after a pass from Gabriel Bourque to complete his two-point game.

Bourque added a goal of his own shorthanded when he broke in all alone and made a beautiful move and great backhand shot past Miftakhov. It was his sixth goal of the year.

After being outshot in the first, Laval turned it around in the second, holding a 14-6 advantage in the period.

In the third period, the Rocket played to hold on to their lead. Syracuse did get on the board when Hudon pounced on a loose puck off the end boards to finally beat Poulin.

Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx pulled his goaltender for the extra attacker with over eight minutes left in the third period, and a 4-1 deficit. Syracuse did a good job of puck possession. They had several shots on Poulin and zone time, but nothing overly dangerous. However, they didn’t allow Laval anything but a few clearing attempts at goal.

Close to seven minutes later, Dea was finally able to get a good chance at goal and put his second of the game — and 14th of the season — into the empty net with 1:36 left in the game to make it 5-1.

The Rocket will have a few days of practice before starting a stretch of four road games in six days on Wednesday. They play a fifth road game in Toronto before returning home.


Lineup

The Rocket went with 11 forwards and seven defence on Saturday. Jean-Christophe Beaudin was slated to be in the lineup, but had some discomfort in warmup and was scratched. That opened the door for Josh Brook to make his season debut following a knee injury that was suffered in off-season training.

He played sparingly, and was “fine” in the words of Houle, who also mentioned he was understandably rusty in his first game action of any kind, especially being entered into the lineup on short notice.

Alexandre Fortin also was back in the lineup in the place opened up by Brandon Baddock’s trade to the Minnesota Wild organization earlier in the day.


Standings

Laval moved into third spot in points percentage, ahead of Rochester. Between February 16 and March 2, the Rocket play nine games, all against Divisional opponents. It is a very busy stretch that will go a long way in determining their playoff standing.