On March 11, the Laval Rocket had a 3-1 lead over the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and looked to be coasting to victory. They allowed three straight goals and lost the game 4-3 in regulation. It was one of only two games they lost this season when leading after two periods.
The team once again had a 3-1 lead over the Phantoms at Place Bell on Friday night. They scored two goals in the third period and coasted to a 5-1 win.
For Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle, the message was clear going into the third period.
“We’re at home, it’s an important game, and it’s a must-win,” he said about the message to his team after two periods. “We had the lead 3-1, and we had to find a way to close the game. If we play the right way, we have a chance to win, and that’s what we did in the third.”
Cédric Paquette continued his strong play with two goals and an assist. In four games with the Rocket, he has four goals and an assist and has impacted every part of the game. In addition to playing top-line minutes, he is also playing on the power play, and the penalty kill.
He’s making an impact on his teammates too.
“He’s unbelievable,” said Rocket defenceman Louie Belpedio. “He does everything well. He blocks a ton of shots on the PK, which is awesome. He’s a guy everyone looks up to, and he’s been a big reason for our success lately.”
Like many Canadiens players, Paquette struggled in the early part of the season and had just two assists in 24 NHL games this season. His games with the Rocket are his first AHL time since he played five games in the 2014-15 season.
“It’s not easy,” said Houle, who coached Paquette with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the QMJHL. “He’s spent the last eight years in the NHL. He won a Stanley Cup. And now he ends up in the AHL. It’s hard on the ego, but he’s proving to everybody that he’s a good player. He’s having fun playing right now. He’s in the right space mentally, and that’s what’s important for him as a person and as a hockey player. He’s very appreciated by his teammates and his coaches, and it’s a good thing for us that we have him on our team.”
“He’s not too pissed off, so that’s good for us because he’s a good player when he’s not pissed off,” said fellow Rocket forward Danick Martel about Paquette.
“The big difference is I’m having fun playing hockey,” Paquette said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like this.”
Paquette said that his confidence was lacking, and he has been able to find that part of his game with the Rocket.
“It’s not easy sometimes in the Quebec market,” Houle said. “Sometimes, you read things that are hard to take. Cedric’s a great person and has a big heart. I’m sure it feels good for him to score and help the team.”
“It didn’t go well in Montreal, but I’m not dead yet,” Paquette said.
The Rocket opened the scoring midway through the first period when Paquette pounced on a loose puck and fired the rebound past Phantoms goaltender Felix Sandstrom.
Lehigh Valley tied it up on the power play later in the period when a scramble in front of the net ended with Garrett Wilson putting the puck past Kevin Poulin.
After Adam Clendening took a roughing penalty after the buzzer to end the first period, the Rocket started the second period on the power play. They didn’t waste any time taking back the lead.
Paquette was at the side of the net and made the pass to Jean-Sébastien Dea, who was driving to the net. Dea made no mistake.
The goal came just 32 seconds into the second period and gave the Rocket a lead they would not relinquish.
It appeared that the Rocket took a 3-1 lead with 7:35 remaining in the second period, but the referee blew a quick whistle before the puck crossed the line, costing Justin Ducharme a goal.
Laval didn’t back down. Less than two minutes later, Martel fired a shot past Sandstrom for his 11th goal, doubling the Rocket lead to 3-1.
“We stuck with it,” said Martel. “In the first period, it was really even. They had as many chances as we did. [In the] second period, we stuck with it, and we kept working hard, and goals went in.”
When Martel scored, the Phantoms only had eight shots on goal over midway through the second period. On the shift following Martel’s goal, Kevin Poulin made two big saves, keeping it a two-goal game.
Poulin ended the game with 31 saves, improving his record to 12-6-2.
In the third period, Paquette scored his second goal, tipping a Xavier Ouellet shot just as the power play expired. Jean-Christophe Beaudin scored the team’s fifth goal.
On Saturday afternoon, Laval will finish their homestand with a game against the Wilkes Barre-Scranton Penguins. The game starts at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. Next week, the team goes on a Western Canadian road trip in Manitoba and Abbotsford for four games.
The Rocket made two changes from their shootout loss Wednesday against the Belleville Senators. Peter Abbandonato was replaced by Beaudin. On defence, Dominic Cormier made his Rocket debut, replacing Darien Kielb.
The Rocket continue to hold on to the second spot in the division, but it remains insanely close. One of the teams currently in the top-six of the division will miss out on the playoffs this season. With 18 games remaining, the Rocket are the busiest team in the division to close out the season.