For one last time in the regular season, the Laval Rocket took the ice, with one last task in front of them. Needing just to get the game to overtime to lock up the third seed in the North Division, the team iced a full-strength lineup against the Syracuse Crunch. Jesse Ylönen was back from a non-COVID illness as the team looked to lock up a third seed heading into the playoffs.
The Crunch, having already secured the second seed and home ice advantage, were resting many of their stars in a game that was all but a formality for them. After Cayden Primeau backstopped the club to a win during the week against Toronto, it was Kevin Poulin getting the start for J.-F. Houle’s side.
With the Rocket just trying to earn a point, the game didn’t have the most energy through the opening minutes. Gabriel Bourque had the best chance as he rifled a shot off the crossbar, but it remained scoreless as the period approached the halfway point. Surprisingly it was the Crunch who got on the board first as Gage Goncalves cashed in on a rebound off a Nick Perbix shot to put Syracuse on top.
With the Crunch dominating control of the puck, the Rocket had to quell the momentum quickly or risk falling behind multiple goals. The hero from Thursday night, Brandon Gignac was the catalyst again as he sped around a Crunch defender and put a pass on the stick of Nate Schnarr for the Rocket’s first goal of the night.
Nate Schnarr gets Laval on the board with his 17th of the season! pic.twitter.com/hOZgIGeL4A— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 30, 2022
The first power play of the game also went to the Rocket, and despite Xavier Ouellet hammering a chance off the post as the man advantage went to work. Hugo Alnefelt did well to deny the power play from there.
A few minutes later the Rocket were back on the advantage as Ryan Jones sat for interference. This time the Rocket special-teams unit made the most of the opportunity to take the lead. Ylönen fed the puck back to Ouellet at the point and the Rocket captain quickly shifted it across the zone to Rafaël Harvey-Pinard. Harvey-Pinard fired it right to Cédric Paquette at the side of the net, and he directed it home to put the Rocket into the lead.
Cedric Paquette puts Laval on top as he finishes off a nice passing play from Harvey-Pinard and Ouellet. pic.twitter.com/1t9W3suE7Q— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 30, 2022
As the second period started, the Crunch would not go quietly as Anthony Richard blew by the Rocket defence on a breakaway. Poulin was up to the task as he shouldered the chance onto the back of the net to keep Laval’s lead intact.
The Rocket’s depth eventually won out again as they increased their lead to two goals with just under eight minutes played. Ylönen won a battle along the boards and got the puck to Gignac. The speedy winger again used his agility to work the puck toward net, where he threw a pass in front that deflected off Paquette’s skate to make it a 3-1 game.
Cedric Paquette gets his second of the night as he directs a Brandon Gignac pass off his skate. pic.twitter.com/3iRwCc5XLV— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 1, 2022
A few minutes later, the red-hot second line struck for the second time. Schnarr grabbed a puck and kicked off an odd-man rush into the Syracuse zone. He flicked a pass across to Joël Teasdale, who pulled the puck to his backhand and tucked it neatly behind Alnefelt for a three-goal lead.
Joël Teasdale makes it 4-1 with his 15th goal of the season! pic.twitter.com/pajj4olOPm— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 1, 2022
Despite controlling the scoreboard, the Rocket had to fend off a pair of strong Crunch power plays to close out the period, and did so thanks to the work of Gignac again. With a three-goal lead to end the second period, the Rocket needed just 20 good minutes to lock in their playoff matchup.
The Rocket did well to put the game on ice early in the final period, with Corey Schueneman burying a fifth goal just over three minutes in. J.-S. Dea worked the puck to the defenceman, who walked in off the wing, snapping in his fourth goal of the year.
Corey Schueneman makes it 5-1 for the Rocket.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 1, 2022
It looks like a first round series with Syracuse awaits Laval this upcoming week. pic.twitter.com/FOK1kZ6JRx
With the game out of reach, the Rocket’s goal became escaping without incident, but a big hit from Pierre-Cedric Labrie raised tempers a bit before Laval went on another power play.
Paquette came close to notching a hat trick as he fired a shot between his legs in close, but he was denied by the Crunch goalie and that was the only real attack of note for Laval the rest of the way. A pair of minors for slashing soon made the game four-on-four, however that also didn’t last long as a holding call put Laval on a four-on-three power play.
With the game in hand, the Rocket were content to cycle the puck and fire wristshots on goal, slowly ticking time off the clock late in the third. The four-goal cushion was all the Rocket needed as they saw out the final few minutes without issue and locked up the third seed heading into the playoffs.
Final Score: Laval 5, Syracuse 1
The Crunch will now be heir opponent in the first round, with the best-of-five series kicking off Friday night with the first of two games in Syracuse. The Crunch eliminated the last Habs AHL team to make the playoffs back in 2017 when they defeated the St. John’s IceCaps in four games.