In the midst of a four-game losing skid, the Laval Rocket entered their penultimate game of the year looking to snap out of their funk with the playoffs looming in the immediate future. Head coach J.-F. Houle wasn’t a fan of the effort from some of his lines the night before, so there were a few changes to the forward group. Kevin Roy and Lucas Condotta were sent to the press box, while Cédric Paquette and Cam Hillis drew in.
After serving as the backup to Samuel Montembeault with the Montreal Canadiens for two games, Cayden Primeau got the start, with Kevin Poulin taking the backup spot for the night.
The Rocket had a strong opening shift, but they soon found themselves surrendering the first goal of the game. A turnover by Sami Niku was thrown on net, and though Primeau was moving to smother the puck, Curtis Douglas poked it free for the game’s opening goal.
The Marlies used the goal to launch a heavy offensive salvo that forced Primeau to be sharp, and the young goalie kept Toronto from adding to their lead. Those saves became instantly important as the Rocket’s stars found their way onto the scoreboard. Rafaël Harvey-Pinard got a clean look in close and his shot was fought off by Michael Hutchinson to the end boards. Hutchinson, however, had pulled himself off the post, and J.-S. Dea collected the puck and neatly tucked it home to tie the game.
On the ensuing faceoff, the Rocket found themselves on a penalty kill after Cam Hillis played the puck with his hand. An aggressive Rocket penalty kill kept Toronto from taking the lead back, and in the same vein created a pair of strong odd-man rushes that were broken up with last ditch efforts by Marlies defenders.
Some tempers remained from the previous night’s game, and they boiled over late in the first as Dea and Jack Kopacka were sent to the box for roughing, pushing the game to four-on-four. For the second night in a row, it was Louie Belpedio who took advantage of extra space on the ice to creep into the slot to create a goal. His initial shot went wide of the net, but he grabbed his own rebound and roofed the second chance to give Laval the lead heading into the first intermission.
Louie Belpedio with the no angle snipe to make it 2-1 Laval! pic.twitter.com/QOmBlFbZZv— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 28, 2022
With a late goal in their pocket, the Rocket flew out of the gates to start the second period, pounding the Marlies with five shots in short order, and then drawing a penalty to send them to their first power play of the night.
The power play failed to add a goal, but was about to gain another opportunity as Rich Clune was called for slashing Joël Teasdale’s stick in half. Instead of being sent to the box, he was allowed to jump into a scrum, where he dropped to the ice after a slight shove by Teasdale and evened up the penalties.
Rich Clune should be absolutely ashamed of this flop and the refs should be more ashamed for falling for it pic.twitter.com/L4NudC00b1— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 29, 2022
In the aftermath of the nonsense, the Marlies tied the game as Joey Anderson found the back net. That tie did not last long, however, as the Rocket’s second line continued to be a thorn in the side of the Marlies. Nate Schnarr fed a puck across the front of goal to Gabriel Bourque, who calmly waited out Hutchinson before roofing his 11th of the year.
Gabriel Bourque puts Laval back on top 3-2! pic.twitter.com/vJIxRHbwLk— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 29, 2022
The shoving after every whistle continued from there. Every single stoppage in the Rocket zone had extracurricular activity with the officials doing nothing to curb it. They did, however, have the ability to call Tobie Paquette-Bisson for a dubious trip against Nick Robertson. Ten seconds into the Toronto power play, the Marlies found another tying goal as it looked like Bobby McMann caught part of a Joey Duszak shot to fool Primeau.
A late push by Laval yielded nothing to break the deadlock as the sides headed into the second intermission.
With so much on the line for both teams, the third period started with a fury as the Marlies kept the Rocket pinned deep, but Primeau refused to budge. Once the Rocket found their legs they nearly took the lead back as Corey Schueneman set up Paquette for a one-timer, but Paquette’s shot clanged off the crossbar.
That immediately haunted the Rocket, because on the next shift the Marlies took the lead with Anderson redirecting Rubins’s point shot by Primeau to make it a 4-3 game with just under half the period played.
In need of some late magic, the Rocket found some through the stick of Brandon Gignac. Xavier Ouellet fired a leading pass for Gignac that brought him into the midst of three Toronto defenders. His initial shot was blocked into the air, but Gignac, not quitting on the play, took a one-handed swing and put the puck in the upper corner of the net to tie the game.
HOLY HELL BRANDON GIGNAC ARE YOU SERIOUS?!— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 29, 2022
Laval ties it up 4-4!! pic.twitter.com/XTd1Ng2P8Y
The hard work of Harvey-Pinard drew a late penalty, and on the power play the Rocket did everything except score as the Marlies’ netminder used his pads to perfection to deny multiple Paquette scoring chances. For the second straight night, the rivals headed to overtime to settle things.
Neither side did much to start the overtime period, then Niku made a daring run deep into the offensive zone, resulting in a turnover that looked poised to go the other way for Toronto. But Mac Hollowell had two-hand hacked Niku to force the turnover, and Laval went to a four-on-three power play.
In almost fitting fashion it was Belzile who ended things with a bit of dramatic flair. Ouellet fed Dea for the one-time chance in the faceoff dot, but Dea’s shot hit off the end boards, landing right in front of Belzile. The Rocket’s heart-and-soul winger calmly pulled it back and roofed his 10th goal of the year to secure a win in the final regular-season game at Place Bell.
Alex Belzile with the casual roof job OT winner for the Rocket's regular season final at Place Bell! pic.twitter.com/L5Dr0t7gSx— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 29, 2022
Final Score: Laval 5, Toronto 4 (OT)
Next up for Laval is an important final game against their likely first-round opponent, the Syracuse Crunch. Puck drop for the Rocket’s final regular season game is Saturday at 7:00 PM in Syracuse.