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Rocket @ Comets recap & highlights: Two late goals push Laval to a huge win

It came down to the wire, but the Rocket knocked off a league-leading Utica team once again.

Club de Hockey Canadien

After a split deep in the heart of Texas, the Laval Rocket returned north for the start of another crucial series inside the North Division, this time against the Utica Comets. Both teams came in riding impressive streaks with Utica being 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, while Laval was 7-3-0 themselves. The Rocket were doing so without most of their regulars for part of the run.

Laval did receive another shot in the arm as Lukas Vejdemo was returned to the club from the Canadiens, and he took a spot on the third line between Kevin Roy and Joël Teasdale. Kevin Poulin was between the pipes again, and the defence remained the same as Sami Niku would not be joining the club until after the All-Star Game.

Both sides traded chances through the early going. The Rocket’s fourth line generated some strong chances, while the Comets’ top line remained as threatening as ever. Alex Belzile was caught a step behind the play in the offensive zone, and was called for holding, giving Utica the game’s first power play.

The Comets hammered chance after chance on net, but Poulin was immense as he robbed Alexander Holtz with a great blocker save, and Xavier Ouellet came up with a few big shot blocks in front of net. In the end the Rocket penalty-killers were able to fend off the Utica attack, keeping the game scoreless as the first period chugged on.

While the game slowly cooled off after a furious start, it wasn’t without its chances for both sides. Despite the great looks in dangerous areas, it was a broken passing play that led to the Comets getting on the board first. Reilly Walsh led a three-on-two rush, but his pass bounced around in front of Poulin. The follow-up chance fooled the Rocket netminder as Walsh slipped the rebound through the five-hole to open up the scoring.

A turnover by Louie Belpedio allowed the Comets to double their lead as his errant pass fell to a Utica stick. A.J. Greer then cut across the front of the net, leaving the puck off for Alexander Holtz, and the rookie made no mistake as he buried his 12th goal of the year over Poulin’s glove. That second goal sent the two sides into intermission with all the momentum on the side of the Comets.

The penalty issues popped up early in the second period as Brandon Baddock was called for a hook behind the play, forcing the Rocket penalty kill to come up big once more. Then as the Rocket started to generate a counter of their own, Jesse Ylönen tripped up an opponent, putting the penalty-killers back to the test. Even as the Utica man advantage swarmed all over, looking for a massive third goal, the Rocket special teams, and Poulin especially, kept them from adding to their lead as the game crossed its halfway point.

Another strong penalty kill spurred the Rocket into action. Utica was lucky to clear its lines when it could, but the heavy forecheck from Laval eventually led to Danick Martel getting free space in front of Nico Daws and potting Gianni Fairbrother’s rebound to finally put the Rocket on the board.

They also finally ended up on the power play to end the period after Baddock decided to take a little skate into Daws after the whistle, kicking off a scrum. It looked like a goal was all but inevitable as the Rocket’s full-ice press trapped the penalty-killers on the ice, but they were denied by the horn, leaving them with about 24 seconds of power-play time to start the third period.

The Comets were able to fend off the dying seconds of the Rocket power play, and then the two sides didn’t really do much of anything as the period wore on. There were some chances, but there failed to be any real sustained pressure from either team until the Rocket leadership group stepped up.

Ouellet made a save by inches to keep the puck inside the offensive zone, and fed a pass over to Belpedio. The Rocket defender loaded up and fired a shot right in on Daws, but on its way to the net was tipped by Alex Belzile, fooling the Utica goalie to tie the game up.

The physicality then returned in an instant as Aarne Talvitie tried to gain the Rocket zone and was met with a thunderous check by Fairbrother, sending the Finnish forward flying.

The Rocket cranked the pressure back up, drawing another penalty and giving themselves a truly golden opportunity to snag the lead. While the first unit surrendered a short-handed chance to the Comets, the second made the man advantage count. Belpedio calmly walked into an open lane and let a low wrist shot fly on net. As it approached Daws, the crafty stick of Rafaël Harvey-Pinard tipped it at the last second to give the Rocket a hard-fought 3-2 lead.

From there, the Rocket did an admirable job grinding the gameclock down and not letting the Comets get Daws to the bench for the extra attacker until there was just under a minute remaining. Even with Daws on the bench, the Rocket were able to deny the Comets a real chance on net, and Belzile picked off a pass to bury the empty-net goal.

Final Score: Laval 4, Utica 2

It’s the Rocket’s second straight regulation win over the Comets, and the teams will meet once again on Friday night in what is sure to be a hotly contested game in front of a raucous crowd.