After a stumbling loss to the Belleville Senators on Monday to end a long road trip, the Laval Rocket returned home to Place Bell. It was already an emotional night as the Rocket could clinch a playoff berth with a win in regulation against the Toronto Marlies, the first in team history.
There was the added wrinkle of it being the Quebec Classic for the Rocket, as they suited up in special jerseys that were meant to be worn over two years ago before COVID hammered the world of sports. On top of that, the passing of Montreal Canadiens legend Guy Lafleur hit hard across the Canadiens organization and fanbase.
For the game, J.-F. Houle had received plenty of reinforcements as Rafaël Harvey-Pinard was returned from the NHL, and Corey Schueneman also returned to the lineup after being sent down earlier in the week. In net it was Kevin Poulin getting the nod.
The Rocket jumped out with an intensity they hadn’t channeled in a long time. They hammered everything in a white sweater when they had the puck, and hounded Toronto’s defence with a relentless forecheck. However, Tobie Paquette-Bisson was called for hooking after being caught flatfooted, allowing the Marlies to take the game’s first power play. An impressive penalty kill from the Rocket allowed zero shots on Poulin, and after taking the game’s first penalty, Paquette-Bisson drew a call to send Laval to their own power play.
Both waves of the man advantage came close to opening the scoring as J.-S. Dea rang a shot off the crossbar and Joël Teasdale was denied by a desperation block as Michael Hutchinson was down and out. That didn’t deter the Laval attack though as an offensive-zone draw led to the Rocket taking a much-deserved 1-0 lead.
The faceoff was won back to Paquette-Bisson, who let a shot go on net, and in front Lucas Condotta caught enough of it to deflect the puck away from Hutchinson. It fell right to the stick of Teasdale, who snapped it home to put the Rocket on top with just over half the period played.
Joël Teasdale gets Laval on the board with a first professional point on the play for Lucas Condotta! pic.twitter.com/hUg07LXzNb— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 22, 2022
Another Rocket power play threatened to break the game open shortly afterward. Dea did a masterful job distributing the puck, to either Harvey-Pinard in front of the net or to Jesse Ylönen waiting in the faceoff dot. The Rocket man advantage piled up a ton of chances, but they weren’t able to squeak another shot by Hutchinson on the advantage.
After the Rocket ran the first period, the Marlies’ legs found some juice in the second as they kept Laval mostly pinned deep in their zone. Poulin did well to keep Toronto off the board, but a Gabriel Bourque turnover behind the net popped out to Joey Anderson, who buried the chance to tie the game up.
Another Toronto penalty sent Laval back to the power play, where again they created plenty of looks, but failed to cash in on the opportunity. That came back to bite them in short order as Paquette-Bisson fell down, allowing an odd-man rush the other way. Louie Belpedio defended well against Josh Ho-Sang, but it was Rich Clune barrelling through Poulin that allowed the puck to trickle in. Despite the obvious collision, the officials signalled good goal and Toronto was up by one.
Rich Clune runs through Kevin Poulin and apparently goalie interference doesn't exist in the AHL pic.twitter.com/KXg2O19YPW— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 23, 2022
That lead became two as Bourque was put into a spin cycle by Philippe Myers, who finished with ease to run the Toronto lead to two goals late in the second period. A late Tory Dello tripping penalty ensured that Laval had a tough task to contend with as the second period came to an end.
Laval was able to kill off Dello’s minor, but it nearly cost them Cédric Paquette, who appeared to be slewfooted and skated off to the Rocket bench slowly afterward.
The Marlies continued to push the Rocket to the brink, with Clune trying to go between his legs for a goal, and forcing Alex Belzile to clear the loose puck off the goal line to keep the deficit at just two goals.
Another Rocket power play did nothing but make the scoreline worse as a Sami Niku turnover became a Nick Robertson short-handed breakaway, which the Toronto forward buried five hole on Poulin to put the Rocket in a seemingly insurmountable hole. For good measure, the Marlies tacked on an empty-netter with five-and-a-half minutes to play.
Toronto easily held off Laval’s last-gasp push to secure the win, and fend off the Rocket clinching a playoff spot.
Final Score: Toronto 5, Laval 1
The Rocket’s next game isn’t any easier as they travel to Syracuse to play a Crunch team that just decimated the Belleville Senators on Friday night. Cayden Primeau is the likely starter for Houle’s side.