The Laval Rocket seemed to be on their way to a big sweep of the Belleville Senators, but a 3-0 lead turned into a 4-3 loss in the final 10 minutes of the game on Saturday afternoon at Place Bell.
After Rafaël Harvey-Pinard scored a shorthanded goal 30 seconds into the third period to make it a three goal lead, Laval looked in control.
The game turned with 10:18 to go in the game. Cole Reinhardt drove to the net and put the Senators first goal past Cayden Primeau to make it 3-1.
When play restarted after the goal, Senators player Matthew Wedman was pushed into the boards awkwardly by Gabriel Bourque which caused a scrum along the benches. Three roughing penalties were given out, including one each to Tobie Paquette-Bisson and Josh Brook. It meant the Senators got a power play. Bourque’s initial hit was not penalized.
Just as the penalty expired, Rourke Chartier’s shot was stopped by Primeau, but the puck trickled by him into the crease where Roby Jarventie pounced on it and just 2:10 after the first Senators goal, it was quickly 3-2.
Just 32 seconds after that, following an offensive zone faceoff, Michael Del Zotto fired a harmless looking shot through Primeau to tie the game. It was the third Belleville goal in a grand total of 2:42
The game remained tied until the final minute of regulation. Jesse Ylönen was called for boarding by the back official with 59 seconds remaining, and just five seconds into the power play, Jarventie’s shot hit off of a Rocket defender and beat Primeau to give the Senators their first lead of the game.
Laval would try to push back, but with less than a minute remaining, couldn’t generate anything that could threaten to send the game to overtime. The Laval bench wanted a call when Sami Niku was taken down along the boards with seconds remaining, but nothing was called.
“I don’t think it was total domination, it was just a couple of bounces and that’s the way it went,” said Rocket forward Devante Smith-Pelly.
“We have to take it as a learning experience,” said Rocket defenceman Tory Dello. “Going into this part of our schedule and going into playoff games, we have to learn how to close games out and giving up four goals in the third is unacceptable.”
“Our game plan was to stay disciplined and penalties broke our rhythm,” said Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle. He went on to mention that the fourth line of Smith-Pelly, Cameron Hillis, and Alexandre Fortin was the team’s best but because of the penalties in the third period they couldn’t play them as much, which hurt the team.
Although officially the penalty kill only allowed one goal, two more of the Belleville goals came just as power plays ended.
“I liked the way we started the game, not so much how we finished it,” Houle said. “We’ve been pretty good at closing out games all year. This one slipped away. We can learn from it, we need to stay more disciplined and play less on our heels in the final 10 minutes.”
Entering Saturday’s game, the Rocket were 16-0-0 when leading after two periods.
Laval had several chances to start the game, with Joël Teasdale and Shawn St-Amant getting stopped by Kevin Mandolese.
The Rocket opened the scoring just over seven minutes into the game when Tory Dello fired a shot past Mandolese. Smith-Pelly made the crucial cross-ice pass for the assist to give Dello tons of space to walk into his shot from near the right circle.
The chances kept coming for Laval, but Mandolese was big in the period, making 13 saves including a couple of stops on Cameron Hillis throughout the period. Belleville killed two Laval power plays late in the period as well.
Cayden Primeau was making his second start in two days, and wasn’t tested much early but came up with a big save on Jarventie midway through the first period, and another on Andrew Agozzino with 1:30 left. He made 10 saves in the first period.
It was a slow start for the Rocket in the second period. They only had one shot midway through the frame despite having three minutes on the power play. The fourth line struck again as this time Smith-Pelly and Dello reversed roles and it was the forward who scored his second goal in as many games.
Late in the second period, Primeau kept it a 2-0 game with a great sequence of saves. The shots were 17-5 Belleville in the second period, and a big reason why it stayed that way was the play of the Rocket goaltender. Primeau ended the game with 40 saves as the Rocket were outshot 44-32.
Laval has a day off Sunday before getting right back into game action on Monday night for a rare game to start the week. They play the Cleveland Monsters for two games, before hosting the Abbotsford Canucks on Friday and Saturday in a busy four-game week.
Laval went with the same lineup that beat Belleville on Friday. Alex Belzile, Brandon Gignac, Lukas Vejdemo, Jean-Christophe Beaudin, and Gianni Fairbrother remain out with injuries. Beaudin and Fairbrother are the closest to a return and have resumed skating with the team.
Gignac is expected out until mid-March with an upper-body injury, Belzile is expected to be out three weeks with a lower-body injury, and Vejdemo suffered a setback and will need to be re-evaluated.
Laval remains in third in the division in a pretty good spot, but the battle for playoff positioning will be very close for the rest of the year. The top five teams in the division will make the playoffs.