Rocket vs. Comets recap: Laval smothered in a Game 1 shutout
Frustrated at every turn by a structured Comets team, Laval now needs to sweep both games in Utica to advance.
After clinching a berth on the last day of their season, the Laval Rocket found themselves in the AHL's play-in round against last year's division champions, the Utica Comets.
The Rocket would have to battle through more injuries as Nicolas Beaudin and Mitchell Stephens were both unavailable for the first game of the series. Nolan Yaremko and Olivier Galipeau both drew into the lineup, while Brandon Gignac was a surprise return as well. As expected, Cayden Primeau was the starting netminder for the Rocket, as he squared off against Nico Daws.
The first 10 minutes of the period passed without much of note occurring as the two sides battled for every inch of ice. Plenty of hits, missed connections, and very few shots highlighted the defensive standoff to start the playoffs for both sides.
Utica ended up being the first team to break the ice despite the Rocket's strong defensive structure. Reilly Walsh cut in from the blue line, and with Olivier Galipeau held up by a player boxing him out, the Comets defender neatly tucked in the series' first goal.
The Comets and Rocket then continued their defensive posture for the rest of the first period, with the speed of the Rocket being slowed down greatly through the middle of the ice by Utica's trap. With nine shots apiece, neither side had really turned on the offensive jets in the opening period, but the Rocket had a one-goal deficit to battle back from.
Utica kept their pressure on as the second period started, eliminating any Laval attack before it fully came to fruition. In that pressure the Comets sprung themselves into an odd-man rush, and Aarne Talvitie snapped one by Primeau to double the advantage.
After killing off a minor penalty to Peter Abbandonato, the Rocket seemed to be kicking themselves back into gear as they began to generate more and more chances in the Utica zone. However, as the Comets rang a shot off the post it seemed to take the wind out of Laval's sails as the period wore on.
Eventually Utica found another soft opening deep in the Rocket zone as Alexander Holtz circled behind the net and fed a pass to Ryan Schmelzer in the slot to make it a 3-0 game heading into the final period.
Period three started much like the other two ended, with the Comets choking off the Rocket at every turn, frustrating Laval as they attempted to find the back of the net. Every chance the Rocket did have ended up blocked or kicked away before getting to Daws, and in the rare chance of a clean look on net, shots troubled the Comets goaltender little.
With just over nine minutes to play, the Rocket drew their first power play of the game, a potential lifeline in for the club at a crucial time. They nearly made the most of it, as Abbandonato swatted a chance down then pivoted to fire it on net, but he was robbed by the pad of Daws.
With less than five minutes left, the Rocket brought the puck down ice, sending Primeau to the bench for an extra attacker. Laval should have earned another power play after a Comets player roughed up Rafaël Harvey-Pinard after the whistle, but the game remained at even strength for the final minutes.
It was not to be on Wednesday night at Place Bell, as Ryan Schmelzer eventually added an empty-net goal to put the game out of reach.
Final Score: Utica 4, Laval 0
A shutout in their only home game of the play-in round was not how anyone hoped this game would go for the Rocket. They'll need some big adjustments to break through the defensive shell of the Comets on Friday night when Game 2 kicks off in Utica.