After a shutout loss in Game 4 on home ice in Laval, the Rocket faced a true do-or-die situation in Syracuse for Game 5. They had to handle the crucial game without the services of Nate Schnarr, who was initial a game-time decision, and deemed unable to make the starting lineup.
With Schnarr out, J.-F. Houle opted for an 11-forward, seven-defenceman alignment once more. Peter Abbandonato drew in as the third-line centre, while Kevin Roy replaced Devante Smith-Pelly on the makeshift fourth long alongside Joël Teasdale. For the Crunch it was surprisingly Maxime Lagace getting the start in net, despite suffering what looked like a serious injury in the previous game. Opposite of him was Cayden Primeau once more, with the Habs’ top goaltending prospect looking to put together another strong start.
The first period was quiet, as neither side did much to maintain control of the puck. Syracuse held an early advantage, and then the Rocket began a pushback of their own, yet neither side was able to find the back of the net.
The Rocket had the best chance as they headed to the power play after Ryan Jones was called for high-sticking Brandon Gignac. The power play went about as poorly as a man advantage could go, as the Rocket not only failed to score, but surrendered a short-handed goal in the process. Laval was attempting to cycle the puck along the point, but it was poked free and Anthony Richard took off, burying his fourth goal of the series on a breakaway to open the scoring.
The Rocket weren’t able to draw level in the final seconds of their advantage, and as the game entered the first intermission, the team as a whole was looking for any kind of breakthrough.
Period two kicked off with the Rocket adopting a much more conservative approach in the offensive zone, slowly moving the puck around as they probed for openings on goal. They didn’t find many as the Crunch continued to clamp down and stifle the Rocket offence, even when Lagace was out of position on scramble chances.
Even with the stronger effort to start the period, it was the Crunch who ended up adding to the scoreboard. After Laval failed to capitalize on multiple odd-man chances deep in the Syracuse zone, the Crunch charged the other way and Ryan Jones saw his shot bounce off a Rocket defender and by Primeau to make it a two-goal deficit.
With the game and the series slowly slipping from their grasp, the Rocket headed back to the power play after Brandon Gignac’s speed drew a tripping call on an odd-man rush. While the top power-play unit wasn’t able to generate any attack of note, the second unit was finally able to get on the board. Sami Niku fed a pass along the blue line to Louie Belpedio, and the Rocket defenceman rifled a shot on net. Alex Belzile got in front of Lagace, and tipped the puck in to make it a 2-1 game.
Alex Belzile's fourth goal of the playoffs gets the Rocket on the board.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 18, 2022
2-1 midway through the second in Syracuse. pic.twitter.com/7JMp1daZLC
Belzile’s goal seemed to breathe some life back into the Rocket’s offence as they hammered chances on net, but Maxim Lagace wasn’t giving any second chances. Even as Laval pushed, the Crunch countered effectively, forcing Primeau into a number of big saves to keep the deficit at just one goal.
It was thanks to Primeau that the Rocket were within striking distance as the game entered the second intermission, setting up a massive final 20 minutes.
With their entire season on the line, the Rocket came out strong to start the third period, with the top line finally showing some signs of life as Jesse Ylönen tested Lagace multiple times, but the Crunch goalie was up to the task as well.
Ylönen continued to be a thorn in the side of the Crunch, as he picked off an errant pass and fired multiple chances on Lagace from in close, but again the Crunch goalie was there to frustrate the Rocket offence. After a scrum behind the net following a Gabriel Bourque rush, the game shifted to four-on-four, opening up more ice for the Laval offence.
The Crunch tried to take advantage of the space first, with Alex Barré-Boulet dangling around the defence to create a chance, but a sprawling cover by Primeau denied the Syracuse forward of what looked like a sure goal. Primeau’s save brought some juice back to the legs of the Rocket as they generated more chances on goal, but again Lagace refused to budge under the intense pressure.
With the situation getting desperate, the Rocket pulled Primeau following an icing, and with 84 seconds left had one last chance to try to keep their playoff push going. Somehow, despite the incredible efforts of the opposing netminder, the Rocket found one last bit of magic. Lagace made an incredible save on J.-S. Dea in front of goal, but Cédric Paquette banked in a shot from behind the goal to tie the game and force overtime in the deciding game.
CEDRIC PAQUETTE WITH THE NET EMPTY TIES THE GAME WITH 39 SECONDS TO PLAY pic.twitter.com/uCpssIuX8x— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 18, 2022
As the extra period started, the Rocket still had their foot firmly on the gas. The Crunch weren’t able to generate much more than one-and-done chances, while the Rocket held the zone for extended periods of time. However, one of those Crunch chances forced Danick Martel into a hooking penalty, giving the Crunch an overtime power play.
Primeau maintained his incredible performance as he denied Charles Hudon three times as the penalty kill came to an end to deny the former Rocket star the series-winning goal. Then, Martel made up for his penalty deep in the Crunch zone.
The speedy winger jumped on the forecheck and circled the net, hammering a shot off Lagace that rebounded out. Gabriel Bourque stepped into a shot and ripped it home, sending the Rocket on to the second round of the playoffs.
Gabriel Bourque with the overtime winner, and the Laval Rocket now await the winner of Rochester/Utica pic.twitter.com/HZld4QciGz— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 18, 2022
Game 5 Final Score: Laval 3, Syracuse 2 (OT)
Rocket win series 3-2
It was a stunning comeback for the Rocket, who seemed dead in the water before pulling off one last magic trick to secure the first series win by a Montreal AHL team since 2011. The club now awaits the winner of a hotly contested Rochester-Utica series which has also gone to a final fifth game. The next round will be begin on Sunday.