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Rocket vs. Crunch recap & highlights: Cédric Paquette the hero as Laval takes a series lead

The veteran was everything the Rocket needed in a tightly contested affair at Place Bell.

AHL: MAY 12 Playoffs Round 2 Game 3 - Syracuse Crunch at Laval Rocket Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Five days after scoring a massive victory with under two minutes to play in regulation, the Laval Rocket returned to Place Bell for Games 3 and 4 against the Syracuse Crunch. It was the first home playoff games for the Rocket — the first in Quebec in almost two decades — and the fans were more than ready as the tickets sold out quickly.

While there were some lineup questions based on the health of Gabriel Bourque, the Rocket were able to roll out their winning lineup from Saturday once again. Devante Smith-Pelly and Danick Martel were the two-man fourth line, while Mattias Norlinder drew in as the seventh defender for J.-F. Houle. In net it was Cayden Primeau getting the nod after a strong 37-save showing in Game 2 in Syracuse.

The Crunch came out flying off the opening draw, but a high-sticking penalty shifted the advantage to Laval as the Rocket power play took the ice. There were some early wrinkles in the Rocket advantage, but after a failed entry turned into an odd-man rush the other way, things worked themselves out. Louie Belpedio slid a pass across to Sami Niku, and the defenceman worked down low then fired a cross-zone pass to Martel. The former Crunch standout wired the one-timer by Maxime Lagace to give the Rocket a very early lead.

A delay-of-game call soon sent the Rocket back to the power play, but an intense forecheck by the Crunch never let Laval’s man advantage get set up to attack. As the play returned to even strength, it was Cayden Primeau’s turn to steal the show as he made a save on Fredrik Claesson, then dove to punch away the rebound to keep Laval in the lead.

The Rocket penalty-killers were soon called into action as Corey Schueneman was whistled for tripping. Much like the early power play, the penalty kill was dialed in, stifling the Crunch and getting a crucial kill in the first period. As the penalty expired, Remi Elie threw a late hit by the Rocket net, drawing a full crowd. When the dust settled, Laval was headed back to the power play.

While the Laval power play didn’t click immediately, they didn’t have to wait long to get another shot to try to find a second goal. The chances were there for Laval as they continued to pepper Lagace and the Crunch, but their best shot rang off the crossbar and away, leaving them with just a one-goal lead as the first period came to a close.

The Rocket came out strong in the second, but Lagace continued to deny Laval in their attempts for a second goal, including a perfect shutdown of a Belpedio breakaway chance in the offensive zone. The Crunch were able to finally to break the goose egg after Lagace kicked away a Cédric Paquette shot, and it turned into Darren Raddysh sending Elie the other way. Elie flew into the offensive zone, and rifled his shot by Primeau to tie the game less than five minutes into the second period.

Syracuse’s goal woke the Rocket up, and they began throwing every chance they could find toward Lagace, including a two-on-one that Alex Belzile wasn’t able to chip home off a feed from J.-S. Dea. As the physicality increased, the officials appeared to put their whistles away, until Daniel Walcott hammered Belpedio with a cross-check, putting the Rocket back on the power play.

The special teams struggles continued for Laval as they were unable to capitalize on the advantage again, and before long found themselves on the penalty kill after a dubious holding call against Norlinder. Much like their earlier penalty kill, the Rocket were all over the Crunch, killing off Norlinder’s minor while creating a few looks for themselves.

The early goal by Elie was the only one of the period, as Devante Smith-Pelly denied the Crunch a late marker with a pair of huge shot blocks in the final seconds, sending the teams to the intermission tied at one.

It was again Laval who jumped out to the early attack in the third period, and a nice bit of interplay between Norlinder and Martel resulted in the Rocket heading back to another power play. With the Crunch shading to cover Jesse Ylönen, the Rocket were able to use the Finn as a decoy and nearly found the net, but again Lagace was able to make an incredible pad save on the post to deny them.

It looked like the Rocket’s efforts finally found a second goal as Paquette rocked a Crunch player along the boards, knocking the puck loose. It eventually found its way to Xavier Ouellet who fired it by Lagace as Paquette cut across the crease. However, the officials ruled that Paquette had clipped part of Lagace’s pads, wiping out the goal and sending Place Bell into a rage.

The Rocket were on the back foot for a few minutes as Primeau made a number of huge save to keep the game level. Then, as P.-C. Labrie was called for roughing up Tory Dello behind the play, the Rocket power play came through. Ouellet fed a pass to J.-S. Dea, who fired off a hard shot that Paquette was able to redirect. It was suddenly 2-1, and Place Bell was shaking from the roar from the crowd.

The Rocket penalty kill had another test in front of them before long as Gabriel Dumont drew a retaliation call from Paquette after he was checked into the Rocket bench. As much as the Rocket disagreed with the call, the penalty-killers made short work of the Crunch power play once again, keeping their lead intact.

Laval was holding back the tide as best they could as the game entered its final minutes, and soon Lagace exited his cage for an extra attacker. A smart clear allowed Dea to fire the puck into the empty net to seal the victory for Laval. Belpedio added a second empty-netter with just 20 seconds left to play to put an exclamation point on the win.

Game 3 Final Score: Laval 4, Syracuse 1

The Rocket can now close out the series on Saturday at Place Bell with a win in Game 4 of the best-of-five.