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Rocket @ Phantoms recap & highlights: A disappointing third period sinks Laval

The Rocket road trip hit a bump on their first night in Pennsylvania.

Club de Hockey Canadien

Following a dominant 7-2 victory in Rochester on Wednesday night, the Laval Rocket found themselves in Pennsylvania for the first time in two years for a game with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Injuries and extenuating circumstances continued to hound the team prior to the game, as Tory Dello was under the weather and Corey Schueneman wasn’t able to arrive in Allentown before the game. This meant that Darien Kielb made his AHL debut for the Rocket after signing a tryout deal earlier in the week.

Between the pipes it was no surprise that Kevin Poulin got another start for Laval, with Louis-Philip Guindon likely getting the game on Saturday evening.

In the opening minutes, the Phantoms were by far the better club as the Rocket struggled to contain the opponent, and repeatedly turned the puck over. If not for a some strong saves from Poulin, the Phantoms would likely have been up by multiple goals before the game was even five minutes old.

It took the Rocket nine minutes to get their first shot on net in the contest, with a long-range wrist shot from Gabriel Bourque easily being saved by Felix Sandstrom. The team looked a bit more awake following their sluggish start, and the speed of Jesse Ylönen helped the Rocket draw the game’s first penalty as well. The man advantage generated a few looks, but the Rocket still struggled to sustain real pressure as the power play came to an end.

Laval’s sloppy play with the puck finally came back to haunt them as Ylönen’s clearing pass was fired off lazily and hit the side of the net. The puck then bounced right to Cal O’Reilly who was all alone in front of goal, and he easily tucked home the opportunity to give the Phantoms a much-deserved lead.

The Rocket weren’t going to let the period end without a fight though, as Kevin Roy nearly tucked home a chance on a breakaway. While Sandstrom denied the first Roy chance, the Rocket forward’s dogged effort to win a puck battle gave him the space he needed to roof a goal by the Phantoms netminder with just over a minute left to play in the first.

Ending the period with a goal woke up the Rocket’s legs to start the second as they were finally able to generate some sustained pressure and keep the Phantoms’ defence on its toes. Before long the Rocket top line went to work, with Ylönen circling the offensive zone with little effort. His first chance to the front of the net was batted away, but he corralled the rebound and fired a shot off his back foot on net. Sandstrom made the initial save, but Rafaël Harvey-Pinard was there to bat the rebound of out the air and into the net to make it a 2-1 game.

Lehigh Valley came back down the ice looking to even things up, and they came close if not for a pair of big saves from Poulin. The Phantoms’ aggression opened up their defence to quick counters and the Rocket fourth line did just that. A blocked shot led to Terrance Amorosa headmanning a puck up to Danick Martel through the neutral zone. Martel patiently waited before sending a pass across the royal road to Justin Ducharme, who buried his third goal of the year.

While the Rocket were the more dominant team, a lapse in defensive coverage allowed Logan Day an open lane to roof his shot by Kevin Poulin. The Rocket held firm from there, but headed into the locker room leading by just one goal.

It took just over 90 seconds for the Phantoms to find their tying goal in the third period as Max Willman broke in down the right side and snapped a shot through Poulin to make it 3-3.

To make matters worse, the Rocket then had to kill off a high-sticking penalty as Lehigh Valley looked to turn the tide fully. The Phantoms did just that as Wade Allison found a patch of open ice and blasted a one-timer past a lunging Poulin to put the Rocket down a goal with three-and-a-half minutes played in the final period.

With time ticking away in the final minutes, the Rocket were doing everything in their power to find a fourth goal, but the Phantoms did well to keep them trapped to the outskirts of the offensive zone. It looked like Laval might have drawn a late power play when Isaac Ratcliffe took exception to a Louie Belpedio hip-check in the neutral zone. Ratcliffe wanted a piece of Belpedio with the Rocket defender clearly not interested. When the officials stepped in, however both were given two for roughing, sending the game to four-on-four.

The Rocket weren’t able to even gain full possession of the puck in the final minute, sending them to a disappointing defeat in a game they were once in full control of.

Final Score: Lehigh Valley 4, Laval 3

They don’t have long to lick their wounds though as they head into Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Saturday evening for match with the Penguins.