Rocket vs. Crunch recap & highlights: Clinched
A week after being dealt what felt like a knockout blow, the Rocket clinched their playoff spot with a third consecutive victory.
For the final time this regular season, the Laval Rocket took the ice, looking to lock up a playoff berth for a second straight year. With a win against Syracuse, the Rocket would put all the pressure on the Cleveland Monsters to win their remaining games. However, a Rocket win in regulation and anything less than a victory for the Monsters would clinch Laval a spot.
Laval got a heavy dose of reinforcements with Joël Teasdale and Lucas Condotta returning from the NHL for this game. Teasdale slotted into line four while Condotta was set to centre the third line. In net was Cayden Primeau, as expected.
The Rocket wasted little time getting things going. Xavier Simoneau won an offensive-zone draw back to Pierrick Dubé, and Dubé walked toward the slot and wired the puck past Hugo Alnefelt to make it 1-0.
The Crunch were not going to go away easily despite the early goal against, and found themselves tying the game before long. Daniel Walcott put a weak shot on net and Primeau pushed a rebound away for his defence. Jack Thompson got there first though, and snapped it by the Rocket netminder.
Laval fought through a Crunch power play with Anthony Richard in the box, and then went right back to work in the offensive zone. Again it was Simoneau winning a puck battle along the boards and feeding Dubé for another Rocket goal.
After a pair of penalties put the game at four-on-four, the Rocket exploded offensively. First was Richard hammering a chance off of Alnefelt into the slot where Corey Schueneman stepped into it and pushed the Rocket lead to two goals.
Just a minute later it was Richard making things happen again. He picked the pocket of a Crunch defender in the neutral zone, and raced in alone on goal to clang a shot off the post behind Alnefelt. Richard grabbed his own rebound and slammed the wraparound home to make it a 4-1 game, forcing a goalie change.
The Crunch drew one back late in the period. Walcott shattered Olivier Galipeau's stick in front of goal, and with no stick Galipeau wasn't able to break up the feed to Walcott, who scored to cut the Rocket lead to two goals.
Period two saw the Rocket again killing off a penalty as Nolan Yaremko went to the box for tripping and presented Syracuse with a chance to jump back into the game. The special-teams units shined as they kept a dangerous Crunch power play from generating much and kept their two-goal lead intact.
The Rocket finally managed to draw a call of their own after a frustrating series of non-calls earlier in the game, as Dubé forced Declan Carlile into a hold as he drove toward the net. While it was a huge chance for the Rocket to further cement their lead, their first man advantage struggled to generate much of an attack and the Crunch killed the penalty with ease.
That kill by the Crunch seemed to tilt the momentum in the visitors' favour for the rest of the period. Primeau repeatedly came up with big saves to keep the lead intact, but the Crunch were clearly not going to go quietly as the two sides entered the third period.
The Rocket began the final frame weathering the Crunch attack well, with Primeau making plenty of saves while his defence cleared their lines to keep the puck out of the zone for as long as possible. The dam held for awhile, but the Crunch finally managed to punch another hole into it.
As the Rocket continued to absorb attacks, the Crunch found a gap and Walcott was free to jump into the fray and poke it by Primeau to put Syracuse within a goal.
The Rocket did get an unexpected boost as they held on for dear life. Cleveland lost 2-1 to Utica, meaning all the Rocket needed was a single point to clinch their playoff berth. The news brought Place Bell to a deafening roar, and brought the Rocket back to life for the final minutes of their game.
The Crunch eventually got Alnefelt to the bench for an extra attacker, but a near body-breaking effort from Rafaël Harvey-Pinard cleared the puck one final time and secured the final, biggest win of the regular season for his team.
Final Score: Laval 4, Syracuse 3
The Rocket now await their opponent in the best-of-three play-in round, as Utica, Syracuse, and Rochester jockey for the spots behind the Toronto Marlies in the standings. Laval will know its opponent by Sunday evening, and regardless of who it is, the Rocket will open the series at home on Wednesday night.