Kevin Roy scored a power play goal midway through the first period, and Kevin Poulin made 15 saves as the Laval Rocket defeated the Abbotsford Canucks 3-0 on Saturday afternoon at Place Bell.
It was Roy’s seventh goal of the season, but his first since December 17 in the last game before the holiday break. He took a pass from Xavier Ouellet and fired a wrist shot from the left circle past Michael DiPietro.
Roy’s first goal in 18 games was also only the team’s second power play goal in six games.
“It felt really good,” Roy said. “I hadn’t scored in a while so it’s good to get that confidence back and help the team in the way that I’m supposed to, scoring goals at big times or making plays to help the team score and win games. It was a big help for the confidence moving forward with the stretch of games we have coming up.”
“It was a really important goal for the game and also for the power play to feel good,” said Ouellet who just a day earlier was at a loss to explain the team’s struggles with the extra player. “We just executed our plays and won the battles. There were two or three battles before the goal that we won and kept the puck in the zone and that’s the difference.”
The first period was a dominant display for the Rocket. They didn’t allow a shot until 12:24 into the game, and outshot the Canucks 17-2 in the first 20 minutes.
“We were in their face,” Roy said. “We protected our zone really well. They were stuck on two shots for a long time. If you’re going to defend like that and take care of the puck you’re going to win a lot of games.”
Laval came close to extending their lead a few times in the final minute as Shawn St-Amant missed two great scoring chances in the dying seconds.
Another former Trois-Rivières Lion, Justin Ducharme, had a great chance in the opening minute of the second period, winning a foot race over Noah Juulsen and driving to the net on a partial break, but he was stopped by DiPietro.
Laval appeared to take a two-goal lead with under 14 minutes remaining in the second period, but Louie Belpedio’s goal was called off because of a penalty away from the play.
Despite the lack of activity through the first part of the game, Poulin was tested more in the middle frame. The Canucks had three straight power plays, but the goaltender stood tall. Poulin was playing his second game in 16 hours with the early 1:00 start after a game on Friday night. His biggest save came with 18 seconds left on a Nic Petan tip right in front.
The teams continued to trade power plays into the third period, including a brief four-on-three for the Rocket, and the best chance came when Danick Martel fired a shot directly off the post after his shot beat DiPietro clean.
Laval finally got their insurance marker with 3:53 remaining. Ouellet sprung Jean-Sébastien Dea and Jesse Ylönen on a two-on-one, and Dea fed the Finn who made no mistake on a great shot to secure the team’s win.
Dea finished off his three-point game when he scored an empty-net goal with under two minutes remaining.
“It was a relief,” said Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle about Ylönen’s goal. “I liked the way the game was going, I liked our intensity and it was a big goal to make it 2-0. It was a big game for our playoff status right now. Every point is very important especially the way our lineup is, we have a lot of injuries to key players so every point we can get is important.”
“It’s nice to finally close one of those games,” Dea said. “It’s going to help the young guys to learn how to close those games and moving forward it’s going to be crucial for us.”
The Rocket have had struggles closing out games in the last week, and in the middle of a heated playoff race, and an intense schedule, securing the two points was key for the team’s coach.
“[It has been] stressful,” Houle said about the schedule mixed in with injuries. “It’s been a lot of work trying to see who fits where and the worst part of all that is that we don’t even have practice time right now. Rest is so key right now. It’s our third week in a row with four games. It’s been very tough managing their energy level. After [Friday] night’s loss, I was like oh man the games we lost against Belleville and Cleveland in the last two minutes of play become so huge so it was important for us to win tonight.”
Laval has eight players injured on their roster, not factoring in players who are in the NHL.
They will now have a welcomed day off on Sunday before starting another four-game week on Monday when they host the Springfield Thunderbirds.
Roy, fresh off his game-winning goal, says he will take the day to watch the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational PGA Tour tournament and hanging out with his dog.
The team’s head coach also has plans.
“[I’m] looking forward to the day off, just to stay home and relax,” Houle said. “I might sleep in tomorrow.”
The team made several lineup changes from Friday’s loss, most of them forced. Devante Smith-Pelly, Brandon Gignac, and Gianni Fairbrother all were banged up and were replaced by Justin Ducharme, Cameron Hillis, and Olivier Galipeau. Galipeau, for his part, was signed to a contract Saturday morning.
Josh Brook and Tobie Paquette-Bisson were both ruled out with injuries, and the team had no extra defencemen.
Gignac’s injury is not related to the hand injury that kept him out over a month, and Houle says he is day-to-day and not expected out long term.
With Cayden Primeau an emergency call up with the Montreal Canadiens, Tristan Bérubé was signed to a try out contract and served as the backup goaltender.
The standings show why every point is important. The win puts them in a virtual tie with Toronto for second place with Rochester right on their heels in terms of points percentage, which is how the AHL standings are decided since teams play different numbers of games.