James Neal’s goal late in the first overtime period gave the Springfield Thunderbirds a 3-2 win in Game 5 of the AHL Eastern Conference final against the Laval Rocket at Place Bell on Saturday night.
The loss now puts the Laval Rocket on the brink of elimination as the series shifts to Springfield for Game 6 on Monday night.
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard had both goals for the Rocket, and Cayden Primeau made 44 saves, but it wasn’t enough as Laval saw a 2-0 lead turn to defeat one day after overcoming a 2-0 deficit in their own win.
After dominating the offensive numbers for most of the night, Springfield finally got the winning goal with just 1:25 remaining in the game’s first overtime period. Matthew Peca tapped the puck to Neal in the slot, where his shot beat Primeau.
THE REAL DEAL JAMES NEAL IS OUR OT HERO pic.twitter.com/RBwThbXIoe— x - Springfield Thunderbirds (@ThunderbirdsAHL) June 12, 2022
Despite being outshot 11-6 in the overtime period, and 47-27 overall, Laval had several chances of their own to end the game, but couldn’t capitalize. Jean-Sébastien Dea had a breakaway but was stopped by Charlie Lindgren, who got the start over Joel Hofer who played the night before. Lindgren wasn’t tested as often as Primeau, but had to make several big saves throughout the game.
Just prior to the Dea breakaway, Devante Smith-Pelly had a chance on a two-on-one. Both chances paled in comparison to the one that Danick Martel had. About midway through the period, there was a three-on-two down low in the Springfield end. Corey Schueneman had the puck in the slot and faked a shot, drawing the defence to him. Surprising everyone, he fed Martel who had a wide open net, but the Rocket forward fanned on the shot.
Primeau had to be very solid in overtime as well, making several saves, notably on Klim Kostin and Nathan Todd.
Dakota Joshua was the one to force overtime with just 4:24 remaining in the third period. His shot bounced off of Tobie Paquette-Bisson and floated in the air and Primeau was not able to adjust in time and it made its way in the net.
It was a lucky bounce, but it’s hard to say that it wasn’t deserved as Springfield controlled the puck for most of the third period as they pushed for the equalizer. Their cycle game continued to be strong, and Laval’s counter attack couldn’t produce enough sustained offence to keep the Thunderbirds at bay.
The game started off shaky for Laval, and it proved to be an omen when Alex Belzile was called for a trip in the defensive zone just 1:26 into the game. It was the first of seven power plays that Springfield had on the night. The Rocket penalty kill stood tall for the entire game, remaining a perfect 25/25 in the series, but the amount of effort required on the penalty killers sapped them of much needed energy in the second half of a back-to-back. The lack of energy showed as the game went on, as the Rocket were content to simply clear the zone for most of the latter parts of the game.
While the Belzile penalty was delayed, Springfield controlled the puck for so long that the officials forgot it was a delayed penalty and called play dead for too many men on the ice. The call was eventually corrected.
It was prescient, however, as 8:23 into the game, Springfield was rightfully called for too many players on the ice. Laval wouldn’t score on that opportunity, but after a Nikita Alexandrov slashing penalty, Harvey-Pinard tipped a Sami Niku shot in the high slot and gave the Rocket a 1-0 lead. It was his fourth straight game with a goal.
The feistiness that was abundant during and after Friday night’s Game 4 returned in Game 5. Alexandrov’s slashing call was because he slashed Primeau’s glove after he made a save. Joshua once again found his way into Primeau, but this time Belzile responded. Both players had penalties, but Belzile was given an extra two minutes for roughing.
In the second period, both teams had early power play opportunities, but were unable to capitalize. With 8:55 remaining in the second period, the Rocket got a lucky bounce of their own. Harvey-Pinard had the puck at the side of the net and turned and fired it towards the net. It bounced off of Springfield defender Brady Lyle and past Lindgren into the net.
It was Harvey-Pinard’s fifth goal of the series, and his third straight goal going back to Friday’s overtime winner.
The momentum that goal generated was short lived as the Rocket took another penalty less than a minute after taking the 2-0 lead.
With 3:57 remaining, Neal found Nathan Todd alone in the slot and his one-timer beat Primeau over his blocker. The goal cut the lead to 2-1, and provided the Thunderbirds with some momentum after they had controlled the run of play.
A ONE-TIMER FROM TODD pic.twitter.com/nuLruTNM6Z— x - Springfield Thunderbirds (@ThunderbirdsAHL) June 12, 2022
If not for Primeau making saves on Mackenzie MacEachern and Kostin in the final minutes of the period, Laval would not have made it into the second intermission with a lead at all.
The Rocket will now have a day off as they travel to Springfield before trying to avoid elimination Monday in Game 6. If they win, they will play Game 7 on Wednesday. This will be their second elimination game of the playoffs. Their previous one was the winner-take-all Game 5 against the Syracuse Crunch which they also had to win on the road.
Laval had several lineup changes from Game 4 on Friday night. Nate Schnarr was unable to play, and Gianni Fairbrother also was scratched as the Rocket went back to 12 forwards and six defencemen. Kevin Roy and Jean-Christophe Beaudin entered the lineup.