After a thrilling overtime victory in Game 5 against the Syracuse Crunch, the Laval Rocket took the ice on Sunday for the North Division Final, with a trip to the conference finals on the line. Standing in their way were the Rochester Americans, fresh off a stunning five-game upset of the Utica Comets. In front of a sold-out Place Bell, the rivals squared off for the first of potentially five games.
Both sides opted for the 11-forward, seven-defenceman route, with Nate Schnarr rejoining the lineup after missing Game 5 versus Syracuse with an injury. On defence, Mattias Norlinder was still the extra man, but was due to feature regularly based on previous games. In net, Cayden Primeau was given the nod as starter, and opposite of him was the veteran Aaron Dell.
Both sides traded small chances to open the game, but a defensive gaffe led to the Americans getting the first real chance of the contest. Xavier Ouellet’s clearing attempt was kept in, allowing JJ Peterka to get a clean look on Primeau, and Mark Jankowski was denied on the follow-up by the goaltender’s pad to keep the game scoreless. At the other end of the ice, a funny bounce off a skate sent a puck through the crease behind Dell, but unfortunately for Laval there wasn’t a second bounce in their favour as the puck trickled by safely.
The Amerks continued to hold the puck longer as the Rocket’s odd-man rushes amounted to little in terms of threat, and before long Rochester found itself on a power play with Xavier Ouellet sitting for interference. Laval’s penalty-killers did well to deny Rochester’s dangerous shooters any lanes, and thanks to a few key stops in tight from Primeau the Rocket escaped Ouellet’s penalty unscathed.
Ouellet’s eventful first period wasn’t over yet. Primeau made a big save and the rebound fell to Peyton Krebs behind the net. Krebs looked to wrap it around into the empty net, but Ouellet dove out, denying the chance with his stick and then punching the puck away.
Xavier Ouellet saves a goal with a stick save and punch of his own. pic.twitter.com/AdsBWyDyZb— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 22, 2022
Even as the Rocket began to generate more pressure in the offensive zone, it was Rochester who found the net first. Peterka had his initial rush pushed back, but he opted to circle back through the point and let a shot fly from the point. The puck found its way through traffic and by Primeau’s extended blocker for the opening goal of the game.
The response from the Rocket was instant as the forecheck increased in intensity and the chances began flowing regularly. A deep forecheck by Louie Belpedio forced Brandon Gignac to the point to cover for him, and as the puck got to Gignac, he let a shot fly that fooled Dell to tie the game. Well, it tied the game after a review determined the puck did in fact enter the net, thanks to a redirection from Danick Martel in the slot.
Brandon Giganc with the shot and Danick Martel with the tip and it's a 1-1 game at Place Bell! pic.twitter.com/RbYlC8q7GB— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 22, 2022
Period two was all Rocket out of the gate as they continued to frustrate the Rochester offence, which was constantly rebuffed in the neutral zone. The Rocket took advantage of this, continually poking and probing in the Rochester zone, and before long they found the back of the net again.
Martel darted in, firing off a shot that hit Cédric Paquette in front of goal and deflected over to Alex Belzile. With Dell fighting through the Paquette screen, Martel jumped into the play to dive and swat the puck into the net to put Laval on top.
Better angle, you can see Martel lay out for the shot to give Laval the lead pic.twitter.com/m9hzGKDn7w— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 23, 2022
The Rocket kept their foot on the gas and doubled their lead in short order thanks to the efforts of Rafaël Harvey-Pinard. The Rocket forward stole a puck off the boards, then dangled around Mark Alt before passing across for Paquette to rifle past Dell.
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard dangles Mark Alt into dust before setting up Cedric Paquette for another Rocket goal! pic.twitter.com/aqpy9Z3Ogw— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 23, 2022
Even a J.-S. Dea penalty failed to slow the Rocket’s momentum in the second period, as they generated plenty of chances on net while Primeau kept the Americans at bay. As Dea exited the box, Martel stole a clearing pass, fired off a shot, tracked the rebound through traffic refusing to surrender the puck for a second, then from a bad angle ripped one under Dell’s glove to chase the Rochester goalie with his hat-trick goal.
The Rocket continued to take penalties, and the Americans continued to have their power play absolutely nullified by the Laval penalty kill, keeping the three-goal lead intact as the period neared its end. A late Rocket power play threatened, but failed, to add to the lead as the two sides headed into the intermission with Laval firmly in control.
The Amerks’ lack of discipline haunted them right off the jump as Ben Holmstrom sent Corey Schueneman to the room with a cross-check, and before his penalty expired Brandon Davidson joined him for slashing Martel’s stick in half.
On the ensuing power play it was again Martel who struck after narrowly missing Louie Belpedio for a chance earlier. Sami Niku collected a pass, then flung it right into Martel’s wheelhouse, and the Rocket soon found themselves with a four-goal lead and just over 13 minutes left to play.
Danick Martel Rooster Trick Alert! pic.twitter.com/cnAwYXzakU— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 23, 2022
The Rocket were having no trouble just seeing the game out, even as Nick Boka tried to fight every player he could find on the ice. Boka’s actions earned him an extra minor, and put Laval back on the power play with the crowd wanting to see more goals.
Laval didn’t score on the power play, but six seconds after the play returned to even strength, they added a sixth goal. Mattias Norlinder worked the puck out of the corner, kicking it along to Nate Schnarr. Schnarr fired a shot around a Gabriel Bourque screen for his first playoff goal, and Norlinder’s first point of the playoffs as well.
Mattias Norlinder with his first point of the playoffs as Nate Schnarr makes it 6-1! pic.twitter.com/dcIpJsOdP6— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 23, 2022
That was all the Rocket needed to lock it down for good and coast toward the final horn, but the game did end on a sour note. With just five seconds left to play, Holmstrom blindsided Norlinder in the Rocket zone, earning him a checking to the head penalty and a misconduct, along with Boka. The good news is that Norlinder appeared to be okay on the bench as the game came to a close.
Game 1 final score: Laval 6, Rochester 1
In the end it was a statement win for the Rocket to open the series, and they’ll have to keep that same energy tonight when the puck drops for Game 2.