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Laval @ Cleveland recap & highlights: Dominant win sets the table for the biggest weekend of the season

Credit: Arena du Rocket, Inc.

With just three games remaining, and coming off a crushing loss on Thursday night, the Laval Rocket once again prepared to square off with the Cleveland Monsters. A win by the Rochester Americans over the Belleville Senators earlier in the day offered the Rocket a massive lifeline heading into their Saturday night game. However, Mitchell Stephens was unavailable due to injury, allowing space for the debut of Florian Xhekaj as the fourth-line centre. Jacob Perreault and Riley Kidney moved up to the second line, while Gabriel Bourque and Riley McKay flanked Xhekaj on the fourth. The defensive pairings remained the same as Thursday’s game, and Jakub Dobeš again was the starter.

The spice was apparent in this game from the outset as the Rocket stood their ground around the Monsters’ net, drawing the ire of the Cleveland defence. A mass of humanity piled up around the goal, and resulted in Filip Cederqvist and Billy Sweezey going to the box for roughing. The Rocket required the glove of Dobeš on a pair of occasions to escape the four-on-four section without a goal against.

As both players exited the box, it was Laval taking instant advantage as they got the puck deep into the Cleveland zone. Arnaud Durandeau worked along the end boards, throwing a pass right in front for Lucas Condotta to jam home through the pads of Pavel Cajan to open the scoring.

Unlike the previous game, the Rocket kept an even pressure on the Monsters as the period wore on, creating odd-man rush chances out of the aggressive Cleveland attack. Cajan found himself constantly fighting off chances from Lias Andersson and Perreault, but keeping the Rocket from adding to their lead.

As the first period came to a close, it was Florian Xhekaj and David Reinbacher combining for a number of chances around goal, but Xhekaj wasn’t able to jam it past the pad of Cajan. The period drew to a close with the Rocket leading thanks to Condotta’s goal.

The second period started with a massive opportunity for the Rocket as the Monsters were called on back-to-back penalties, putting Laval on a five-on-three power play. Some initial confusion made it appear that the Rocket were going to waste this chance. However, Philippe Maillet took matters into his own hands, circling the zone and then rifling a shot in to make it a 2-0 game.

A third straight penalty on the Monsters opened the door for the Rocket to possibly blow the game open. Miscommunication on the power play instead allowed Alex Whelan to take off on a breakaway, and earn a penalty shot. Dobeš had no issue waiting Whelan out, and keeping Laval’s two-goal lead intact.

It looked like the Rocket were happy to continue to ride out their two-goal advantage for the rest of the period, as they were easily keeping the Monsters out of the dangerous spaces. However, it only took one small mistake to allow Cleveland to crawl back into the game. A misplayed pass along the blue line became an odd-man rush the other way, and while Riley McKay made a fantastic stick lift it came a split-second too early, and Owen Sillinger swatted the saucer pass by Dobeš to cut Laval’s lead to one goal.

Unlike Thursday, Laval didn’t crumble under the pressure from the Monsters, storming back to restore their two-goal lead by the end of the period. Mattias Norlinder sent a stretch feed to Maillet to kick off an odd-man rush. Maillet flicked a pass over to Lias Andersson, who deked around the pad of Cajan and tucked his 19th goal of the season home.

Laval had no issue with taking their time with every single attack in the third period, just grinding clock away at every opportunity while the Monsters never did much to frighten the Rocket defence. However, when the chances appeared, the Rocket chased in with emphasis.

First was Maillet spinning off his opponent in the slot, putting the puck right into the wheelhouse for Andersson, and Andersson burying his 20th goal of the year to push the lead to three.

It wasn’t long before Andersson got himself involved again, sending Heineman in on a breakaway opportunity. Heineman showed great poise as he waited out Pavel Cajan, and neatly tucked the backhand shot through the five-hole to run the score up further.

That goal from Heineman put the game on ice, as the Monsters let the Rocket just sit back and hold onto the puck for huge chunks of time behind their own goal. It seemed like it would be relatively quiet heading to the final horn, and then chaos erupted.

While the camera didn’t catch it, Monsters forward Stefan Matteau appeared to go after Dobeš, kicking off a massive fracas that also resulted in a fight between Sillinger and Perreault. Unfortunately for Perreault, he appeared to get hurt early in the fight, leaving a bitter note on what was an outstanding result.

Final Score: Laval 5, Cleveland 1

The Rocket’s win now sets the table for an all-or-nothing home-and-home series with the Belleville Senators next weekend. The Rocket will need to sweep that final series and hit 78 points on the season, while not allowing Belleville to exceed that total.

It all kicks off on Friday when the Rocket travel to Belleville for a 7:00 PM puck drop.

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