Coming off a thrilling 4-3 overtime win against Rochester on Friday night, the Laval Rocket had yet another big task in front of them as they welcomed the Utica Comets to Place Bell. The Rocket were forced into a few small lineup changes after their win, with Gabriel Bourque bowing out due to an undisclosed injury, and in his place was J.-C. Beaudin on the fourth line, with Alex Belzile moving up to line two.
On defence, Terrance Amorosa replaced Olivier Galipeau on the third pair, and Cayden Primeau got the nod in net, with Tristan Berube as his backup because Kevin Poulin was under the weather.
From the outset, it looked like the Rocket might bury the Comets with their early pressure, with Belzile and others generating a handful chances inside the opening minutes. Against the run of play, though, the Comets managed to break the deadlock, with Alexander Holtz netting the game’s first goal and kicking off a wild run of events.
Not even a minute after Holtz’s goal, the Comets doubled their advantage thanks to Danick Martel being called for a cross-check. Holtz found open space and fired a shot toward the net that Ryan Schmelzer caught a piece of and deflected it by Primeau.
Things didn’t improve from there as Nolan Foote added a third goal as he fired a shot through Primeau, forcing J.-F. Houle to call timeout to get his team back on track.
Whatever the head coach said worked, as the Rocket stormed back down the ice and started the comeback. Nate Schnarr picked off a clearing attempt along the blue line, and fired a pass up to Joël Teasdale, who was all alone in front of the goal. Teasdale pulled off some fancy moves to deke out Akira Schmid and lifted a backhander into the back of the net to get Laval on the board.
Two minutes later, Schnarr found himself as the playmaking catalyst once more as he won an offensive-zone draw back to Kevin Roy. Roy unleashed a quick snapshot that beat Schmid, and suddenly the game was back on after a disastrous start for the Rocket.
It felt like a tying goal was all but inevitable for the Rocket, and that turned out to be true as Belzile was in the right place to jam a Sami Niku rebound home for a third Laval goal before the period came to an end.
The furious pace continued into the second period as both sides worked to break the deadlock. The Rocket’s increased physicality and drive in the offensive zone saw them getting the better of the chances, but Schmid was up to the task to keep the game level.
A too-many-men call gave the Rocket a chance to take the lead for the first time in the game, and they nearly did. A broken stick allowed Martel to run to the bench and then sneak back into the play, but his chance was kicked away by Schmid’s quick pads. Utica was able to fend off the second power-play wave and keep the game level before heading to a power play of their own as Cédric Paquette was called for hooking.
The Utica power play did well to threaten, but Primeau smothered multiple rebounds and Schnarr did an admirable job keeping the puck-carriers on their toes in and out of the offensive zone.
With the penalty killed, the game soon found itself at four-on-four as Schnarr and Tyce Thompson got into a shoving match behind the play, resulting in matching roughing minors. With the play back at five-on-five, the Rocket were again pushing for a late goal until a dubious high-sticking call sent Paquette back to the penalty box with 46 seconds left to play.
A big glove save from Primeau kept Utica from taking the lead back as the period came to a close, setting the stage for a very intense third.
The Rocket penalty kill came up big to start the final period, keeping Utica away from the net and getting play back to even strength without any hiccups. Before long, the stubbornness of the Rocket finally found a gap in the armour of the Comets’ defence.
Alex Belzile broke up a play in the defensive zone and headmanned a puck for Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, who was streaking out of the zone as well. Harvey-Pinard had his head up the whole way and found J.-S. Dea a step behind the defence in the neutral zone. Dea took the feed, breaking in alone and wiring a shot just under the crossbar to put the Rocket on top with just under five minutes played.
Rocket goal!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 9, 2022
: J-S Dea(21)
: Rafaël Harvey-Pinard
: Alex Belzile pic.twitter.com/DjVOKiIett
The Rocket’s increased pressure began to frustrate the Comets, and Robbie Russo was sent to the box after he cross-checked Harvey-Pinard to deny the forward a prime scoring chance in front of goal. That man advantage soon became a two-man advantage as Ryan Schmelzer caught Dea with a high stick along the boards.
Despite having the advantage, the Rocket power play was extremely conservative, and failed to do much to trouble Schmid. The abbreviated one-man advantage looked better, but again couldn’t add to the lead as Utica survived the attack.
While it looked like the Rocket were just hanging on as the Comets tried to equalize in the dying minutes, that tying goal never came as the Rocket swatted every loose puck away from goal. Finally, Dea scored the dagger as he fired home the empty-net goal to secure the win.
Final Score: Lava 5, Utica 3
With the Toronto Marlies losing in regulation, the Rocket further secured their grip on a playoff spot with their win. Next on their list is their bogeyman this year, the Belleville Senators, as the two sides face off on Monday night in Belleville.