A grueling end-of-season run continued for the Laval Rocket as they had to shake off Friday’s lopsided defeat at the hands of the Toronto Marlies and shift their focus to a meeting with the Syracuse Crunch. The Crunch had a much more exciting Friday night as they smacked the Belleville Senators 6-0, and presented a huge obstacle for Laval.
There was a playoff-clinching scenario heading into the contest: If the Rocket won in regulation, coupled with a Rochester defeat in regulation, Laval would be guaranteed a playoff berth. J.-F. Houle’s side was in tough again as Cédric Paquette and Kevin Roy were injured against Toronto and were unavailable on Saturday night. Drawing in for the two injured forwards were J.-C. Beaudin and Devante Smith-Pelly, and starting in net was Cayden Primeau.
It was a quick start for the Rocket as their second line struck just over three minutes into the period. Joël Teasdale dipped his shoulder and drove hard to the net to get a shot off, and Maxime Lagace wasn’t able to corral the rebound which led to a mess in the crease. Gabriel Bourque caught a piece of the puck, but Nate Schnarr was the one who poked it home to give Laval an early lead.
Joël Teasdale drives the net and Nate Schnarr bats in the loose puck.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 23, 2022
Rocket up 1-0! pic.twitter.com/9xMuU8jGvk
The Rocket power play soon got a chance to increase that lead after Simon Ryfors drilled Xavier Ouellet from behind in the offensive zone. The man advantage hammered a few chances on Lagace, but the Crunch goalie did well to fight off the attack.
Then, much like the game against Toronto, a mental mistake in the defensive zone ended up in the net as Nick Perbix buried the chance all alone in front.
The game already had an air of being a chippy affair, and before long both Charles Hudon and Schnarr were sent to the box for roughing, with Gabriel Bourque also giving Hudon an earful on his skate to the box.
The Rocket looked poised to take the lead back late in the period as Bourque and Teasdale each had good looks on net, but Lagace batted them aside, sending the two teams into the first intermission tied up.
Primeau had to be on his game in the opening minutes of the second period. Hudon broke in down the wing and ripped a shot off the post, and the puck sat precariously in Primeau’s pads. The young goalie wisely starfished, while Sami Niku was quick enough to push the puck under his body to get a whistle.
The heavy pressure from Syracuse to start the period resulted in the Crunch drawing a penalty. On their first power play of the night it took the Crunch just over 20 seconds to find Dumont open in the slot, and the former captain of the Montreal Canadiens’ AHL affiliate buried his chance to make it a 2-1 game.
The Rocket struggled in getting the puck out of the defensive zone as the period continued. That in turn led to Primeau being called into action again as he had to deny a shot from the point, and then to kick out a leg to stop Gemel Smith in tight to the net.
Laval continued to shoot themselves in the foot with undisciplined play as Tory Dello went to the box for holding. The Rocket were able to kill off his minor, but Riley Nash cashed in on a loose puck around the net just after to make it a two-goal deficit.
To follow that up, Danick Martel and Beaudin took penalties in short order, putting the Rocket on a crucial three-on-five penalty kill. The Rocket did an incredible job of killing off both penalties, and nearly turning it into a goal as Brandon Gignac sped away on a break. Gignac was denied, and then on the follow-up by Corey Schueneman was also turned aside by Lagace.
That kill gave the Rocket some momentum as they headed into the second intermission needing a big third period to secure a playoff berth.
Their start to the period was a good one as the top line hemmed the Crunch in their own end, but any shots on net were blocked in front before being cleared. As Laval opened up to create offence, the Crunch countered with a number of odd-man rushes that forced Primeau to make more than one heroic save.
Then, after Daniel Walcott was sent to the showers for instigating a fight, Fredrik Claesson fired a puck out of play, putting the Rocket on their most important five-on-three of the season. Things did not bounce the way Laval needed them to, and the Crunch fended off the two-man advantage.
A Tory Dello double minor for high-sticking left Laval very little room for error late in the third period. The penalty kill failed to come up with another crucial stop as Nash buried his second of the game to put the Rocket very much out of the game.
A Dumont empty-netter sealed a second straight impotent showing with a playoff berth on the line for the Rocket. The only saving grace for Laval is that Rochester lost in regulation, still dropping the magic number down to two points.
Final Score: Syracuse 5, Laval 1
The team will again have a chance to clinch a playoff spot against Toronto at Place Bell on Wednesday night.