The Laval Rocket were finally coming to the end of a long road trip, with performances that had allowed the team to be within a finger’s reach of the playoffs. With a 3-0-1 record through the first four games, the Rocket were just five points away from clinching a spot before Monday’s game in Belleville.
Despite kicking off the road trip with a dominant over the Senators, the Rocket have struggled with Belleville all year. Laval came into the game minus Lukas Vejdemo who had returned to Montreal for an MRI on a lower-body injury sustained against Cleveland. Sami Niku was fine after taking a check to the head last Saturday. Cayden Primeau had also rejoined the team after being sent down by the Montreal Canadiens, and was the starting goalie on the night.
The depth of the Rocket was on display early on as the top two lines refused to be separated from the puck as they set up their cycle inside the offensive zone. As they kept the Sens’ hemmed in, Jacob Bernard-Docker was called for a high stick, giving the Rocket an early power play. The Senators penalty kill smothered the Rocket’s attempts to set up and generate any offence with the advantage.
Despite not converting on the power play, the Rocket’s offence was spurred into top gear as they began to hound the Senators in the offensive zone, especially the top line which was primed to score if not for Mads Søgaard’s helmet popping off as J.-S. Dea lined up a chance into an empty cage.
All it took was an icing and then a defensive-zone miscue to allow Matthew Wedman some open space, and that gave the Senators an early lead against the flow of play.
Another Rocket power play failed to yield a goal, not for a lack of trying as Dea, Jesse Ylönen, and Xavier Ouellet all found themselves denied by the incredible goaltending of Søgaard. The strong power play did lead to a goal at even strength as Danick Martel was able to sneak one by Søgaard off a rebound to tie the game late in the first period.
As Laval opened the second frame with similar pressure, and nearly found a second goal, they soon had a penalty to kill as Dea was called for tripping in the offensive zone. Some strong saves by Primeau allowed the Rocket to escape unscathed, and then somehow also i escape a shift where two different sticks shattered in the defensive zone.
The Sens were the ones using a failed power play to step on the gas after that, and even with a number of premium chances, it was the low-quality one that went in. Zac Leslie walked into a puck at the blue line and snapped off a shot that Primeau whiffed on entirely, which put Belleville back in the lead.
The Rocket were put on the back foot by the goal, and while they had a few looks on net, Søgaard continued to deny them as the two sides headed into the second intermission.
With the Senators attempting to hold onto not only their one-goal lead, but their grip on the final divisional playoff spot, their defensive efforts to start the third were in full force. The Rocket were finding small gaps time and again, but struggled to break through for more than one or two chances from range before Belleville cleared the puck or Søgaard froze it.
Tempers boiled over before long as Jonathan Aspirot cross-checked Cedric Paquette into the net, and in response Paquette got out of the net and proceeded to pummel him for his infraction. When the dust settled it was the Rocket on the penalty kill as Paquette was given an extra minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. While the Rocket killed off the extra two, the Sens still found the back of the net as Wedman buried his second of the night over Cayden Primeau’s shoulder.
Now trailing by two goals, the Rocket made the comeback bid more difficult as Alex Belzile was sent to the box for holding. The penalty-killers held off a suddenly aggressive Senators attack, allowing Belzile to exit the box and giving Laval about five minutes left to find a pair of goals.
After earning an offensive-zone draw with just over four minutes left to play, Primeau headed to the bench for an extra attacker. It wasn’t enough for even one goal as the Rocket threw every single shot they had on net, but none made it past Søgaard before Andrew Agozzino tossed one into the empty net to seal the game.
Final Score: Belleville 4, Laval 1
It’s a bitter defeat for the Rocket who could have used two points in their bid to clinch a spot on home ice. The next game goes versus the Toronto Marlies on Friday April 22.