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Rocket @ Thunderbirds Game 6 recap & highlights: Laval makes a statement to force Game 7

Down multiple players, the Rocket pulled off a gutsy win to stay alive.

After a gut-wrenching loss to the Springfield Thunderbirds on Saturday at Place Bell, the Laval Rocket found themselves in a familiar spot: facing elimination. The Rocket had obviously been here before against the Syracuse Crunch in a Game 5 situation that saw them extend their season with just 38 seconds left to play in the game.

Springfield has been a different beast, and the Rocket again trudged into the contest battered and bruised from a war of attrition on the ice. Nate Schnarr wasn’t able to dress after sustaining an injury on an uncalled high hit in Game 4, but Brandon Gignac was set to return to the lineup. Head coach J.-F. Houle opted to return to the 11-forward, seven -defenceman lineup, removing J.-C. Beaudin and inserting Gianni Fairbrother back into the fray.

The opening minutes were not the most engaging for either side as they took turns icing the puck and failing to generate any real attacking threat. The Thunderbirds drew the first call of the game as Devante Smith-Pelly was called for a high-sticking double-minor, putting a flawless Rocket penalty kill to the test. Springfield had their looks early on in their four-minute power play, but the Rocket clamped down and limited their opponents to just three shots total and no goals.

The Rocket were still struggling to generate consistent offence, but were able to test Joel Hofer with some extended time in the offensive zone. As the period neared its conclusion, another penalty brought that to a screeching halt as Danick Martel went to the box for slashing Hugh McGing. The Laval penalty-killers again held the fort, denying the home team a chance to take a late lead into the intermission.

The horn was a relief for the Rocket, but it wasn’t all good news as Jesse Ylönen was missing from the bench as the two teams went to the locker rooms. Already playing down a forward, the Rocket had an uphill battle as it was later revealed that would be without Ylönen for the rest of the game.

The Thunderbirds knew this as well, applying intense pressure as they kept the Rocket from executing any consistent breakouts while continuing to launch pucks toward Cayden Primeau. The young netminder did well to keep the game scoreless, and at the other end of the ice one little misplay led to the game finally having its first goal.

Lucas Condotta fired a dump-in behind the Springfield net, and Hofer got his wires crossed with his defenceman. As Tommy Cross went to clear the puck at his feet it was picked off by Danick Martel, and the Rocket’s leading goal-scorer in the playoffs added another to his tally.

Martel’s goal brought some much needed juice to the Rocket, and they began to look more like the team from previous games. Alex Belzile nearly made it a two-goal lead in short order as he darted through the slot, pulling a shot to his backhand, but Hofer’s glove was just as quick to rob him in close.

Once Springfield was able to counter, they drew another call, their fourth of the night to put the Rocket penalty kill back to work. Primeau made a handful of big saves, even as Dakota Joshua continued to skate directly on top of him. Even without getting a benefit from the officials, Laval’s netminder secured a fourth penalty kill for the Rocket to keep their lead intact.

Before the period ended, Nikita Alexandrov was called for high-sticking, giving the Rocket their first power play of the night. While it didn’t convert to end the second period, the Rocket were set to begin the third with 40 seconds of power-play time.

The man advantage wasn’t able to convert, and in the process also sent Joël Teasdale to the room after he took an awkward fall along the boards as the Rocket cycled the puck in the zone.

The failed power play didn’t stop them from getting a second goal early in the third period. Corey Schueneman passed up to Martel, who sent Gabriel Bourque in alone toward goal. The veteran loaded up and ripped a missile of a shot over Hofer’s shoulder to make it a two-goal lead for Laval.

Even as Springfield tried to break down the Rocket’s stubborn Maginot Line, Laval held fast, and soon found the back of the net a third time. Martel found a soft spot in the Thunderbirds’ defence, and Gignac sent him charging forward with a perfectly threaded pass. Martel held the puck, dangling around Hofer before sliding it into the yawning cage.

With a three-goal lead in their pocket, the Rocket returned to their defensive structure, and appeared primed to ride out the remainder of the contest. A clearing attempt by Tobie Paquette-Bisson was knocked down by teammate Cédric Paquette, and the puck bounced to Nathan Todd. The Springfield forward teed up Matthew Peca to suddenly make it just a two-goal game.

With just under three minutes left to play, it was the timely scoring of Gignac that clinched a win as he intercepted a pass and tossed it into the empty net. For good measure, after Tommy Cross attacked Martel in the dying minutes to put the Rocket on a late power play, Condotta tallied a fifth goal to send the series to a final, seventh game.

Game 6 final score: Laval 5, Springfield 1
Series tied 3-3

The series-deciding Game 7 will take place on Wednesday night, with a trip to the Calder Cup Final on the line, where the advancing team will face the winner of the Chicago vs. Stockton series in the Western Conference.