After a few days off, and one playoff spot clinched, the Laval Rocket were back in action as they looked to secure one of the top seeds left in the AHL’s North Division. Standing in their way were the Toronto Marlies, a team that not only slapped the Rocket last Friday, they were also clinging to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Rocket, despite having a spot locked up, still faced a tough challenge as injuries hampered the lineup. Cayden Primeau was still on recall with the Montreal Canadiens, making Kevin Poulin the starting goalie for the night, and Lukas Vejdemo was ruled out of the rest of the season after having surgery for a lower-body injury. Also missing was Jesse Ylönen, who was out with a non-COVID illness and Cédric Paquette, who was banged up in last Friday’s loss to Toronto.
The opening minutes for the Rocket were strong ones as their lines held the Marlies to just two shots on net, while they managed to keep the pressure on consistently. The combination of Nate Schnarr and Joël Teasdale in particular jumped on Marlies turnovers and mistakes, with both forwards creating multiple chances, including a puck off the post behind Michael Hutchinson.
The pressure from Laval eventually forced Toronto into the game’s first penalty as Kristians Rubins tried to interfere with Devante Smith-Pelly. He only partially succeeded as he was called for interference, but failed to slow down Smith-Pelly in the slightest. The Rocket power play, which had struggled in recent weeks, came through with an impressive shift to open the scoring. While Hutchinson denied the top power play unit, he wasn’t able to hold back a charge from the second one as a turnover from his defenceman in front popped right to Louie Belpedio, who had no issue burying his 10th goal of the year.
That's 10 goals on the year for Louie Belpedio!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 27, 2022
His power play goal puts the Rocket up 1-0 in the first period! pic.twitter.com/hWpg4tNfMQ
Instead of sitting back following their opening goal, the Rocket continued to hammer away at the Marlies and they were rewarded for their efforts again. A turnover by Rich Clune started an odd-man rush the other way for Laval, and a quick passing play led to Rafaël Harvey-Pinard banking a shot in off a defender for a 2-0 lead.
That is also 10 goals for Alex Belzile!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 27, 2022
Laval's top line keeps clicking even with Jesse Ylönen out for the night. pic.twitter.com/QJMor2ibYl
Toronto wasn’t going to go quietly however, as Marc Michaelis let a shot fly that forced Poulin into an awkward save. The Rocket goalie then lost sight of the puck, and Alex Steeves put it home to cut the Rocket lead down to one goal before the first intermission.
After a shaky start, Toronto came out flying in the second period, and that caught Laval by surprise. Just 90 seconds into the period the Marlies found their tying goal as Joseph Blandisi flicked a pass across goal and Michaelis tapped it through Poulin to tie the game.
To make matter worse, on the next shift Gabriel Bourque was called for slashing in the offensive zone, putting Laval on a the penalty kill. Laval fought off a hard push from the Marlies, keeping the game tied up. As the play returned to even strength it was J.-S. Dea using his speed to draw a holding call and put the Rocket back on the power play.
The Rocket man advantage again made the Marlies pay for their penalty as they cashed in to restore their lead. Harvey-Pinard won a loose puck battle as he fell to the ice, getting it back to Xavier Ouellet at the point. Ouellet walked the line, then pump-faked a shot to open up a lane. With that, he fired a shot that bounced off a defender in front to beat Hutchinson and put the Rocket back on top.
The Rocket go back on top 3-2 thanks to Xavier Ouellet's 8th of the year! pic.twitter.com/7KTiTv9OHe— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 28, 2022
Toronto refused to go quietly and soon found a tying goal once again, thanks in part to a defensive breakdown from the Rocket. Corey Schueneman slipped, allowing Bobby McMann to shovel a puck toward the net, Tory Dello attempted to block it, but his attempt interfered with Poulin’s ability to make the stop. With the puck still loose, Mikhail Abramov flew into the crease to jam it home.
Another offensive-zone penalty put the Marlies back on the power play, and this time they made the Rocket pay. While Laval handled most of the man advantage easily, a failed clearing attempt turned into a scramble in front of the net that ended with Joseph Blandisi roofing a shot to give Toronto the lead.
A late Toronto penalty put the Rocket in position to find a tying goal of their own, but they failed to cash in before the period ended.
The abbreviated power play to start the third period yielded just one chance, and it was a great one as Belzile had a wide-open net, but a diving save forced the puck over the top and denied the Rocket a sure goal.
However, that top line was not to be denied as Harvey-Pinard and Belzile continued their strong nights. Harvey-Pinard drove to the slot, tipping a Belzile shot by Hutchinson for his third point of the night and second goal to tie the game 4-4.
We are tied 4-4 in Laval!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 28, 2022
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard gets his 21st of the year and second of the night! pic.twitter.com/N77MiQdHGx
Tempers began to boil over as first Clune had some choice words for Poulin, and had to be escorted to his bench, and on the next shift Belpedio and Brett Seney got in a tussle resulting in double roughing minors for each.
In the end, regulation solved nothing for either side despite a late push by the Rocket, and the game shifted to overtime. The extra frame wasn’t kind to the Rocket as their one prime chance sailed high and into the Marlies’ hands, resulting in an odd-man rush. Brandon Gignac did his best to try to break up the rush, but Joey Anderson finished off the Seney pass and the Marlies escaped with two points.
Final Score: Toronto 5, Laval 4 (OT)
It’s a fourth straight loss for the Rocket, in all of which they have scored first. They’ll have a chance to snap out of the funk when these two teams meet again tonight.