Laval @ Utica Game 2 recap & highlights: A bitter end
The Rocket were two seconds away from setting up a showdown on Saturday. Instead, their season is now over.
After a frustrating Game 1 loss at Place Bell, the Laval Rocket headed out on the road to try to keep their season alive in Utica. The club needed to win both games away from home to advance to the next round, but playing with their backs to the wall was nothing new for Laval.
There were two lineup changes heading into Game 2, with Danick Martel replacing Nolan Yaremko on the fourth line, while Frederic Allard replaced the injured Tory Dello on the second pairing. As expected it was again Cayden Primeau getting the start in net.
Things did not start out the way the Rocket were hoping as the Comets continued their grinding game in the offensive zone, eventually drawing the first penalty as Xavier Simoneau went off. On the ensuing penalty kill it was Primeau working near miracles, most of which involved him making stops without his goal stick. Those saves allowed the Rocket to escape unscathed, and shortly after allowed them to try to open the scoring on a power play of their own.
Laval's man advantage looked better than it did the other night at home, but it again failed to truly threaten Nico Daws as the Comets smothered chances in and around the net. Both teams resumed their defensive tug of war as the period trudged on, with Primeau flashing his gloves and Daws making a huge blocker save on Jesse Ylönen in short order.
Then, as they often do in playoff games, things boiled over a bit after a stoppage in the Utica zone. Frederic Allard and Simon Nemec got into a tussle, collecting a pair of minors while Pierrick Dubé and Zack Hayes picked up penalties for roughing as they threw punches around an official.
Because tempers were running hot, the first period ended with Joël Teasdale in the midst of a shoving match of his own as the two sides headed into the intermission scoreless.
The second period was all about the Rocket turning up the pressure on the Comets, doing so for the first time all series. As the Rocket rolled their attacks over the Utica defence, Daws continued to be a stubborn obstacle to overcome. Anthony Richard pushed a puck back to the point for Frederic Allard, Allard wired a shot through traffic, and Daws finally surrendered his first goal of the series.
With the opening goal and some momentum on their side, the Rocket promptly took a penalty, putting a dangerous Utica power play back on the ice. Again it was Primeau shining as the penalty kill kept the Comets from getting on the board, but the extra offensive time had brought Utica back on their toes.
The Rocket did well to stem that tide, but finished the period again killing off a penalty. While the defensive work from the Rocket was impressive, it was eating into their offensive-zone time, and with just a one-goal lead the third period remained a daunting task.
It looked like the Rocket were aware of this as the period started, storming down the ice and forcing Daws into a wild sprawl. As he rotated, Richard had a wide open cage to aim at, but as he snapped his shot Daws got his glove up and gobbled up the scoring chance.
Then, it was suddenly all Utica on the attack. Laval repeatedly failed to clear their lines while the Comets circled the zone like sharks smelling blood in the water. Gutsy blocks by Gabriel Bourque and others kept the lead intact, but the Comets were clearly in control of the puck as the period crossed the 10-minute mark.
Laval's chances weren't many as the final minutes approached, but they were dangerous as Richard sent Brandon Gignac in on net, drawing a penalty as he clanged his shot off the crossbar. With the power play struggling, the Comets kept the pressure on, preventing Laval from adding to their lead.
With just under two minutes left, Daws went to the bench and the Rocket prepared for a final onslaught.They nearly survived it, too, defending every shot with Primeau making save after save. Then, with the final horn about to blow, Reilly Walsh snapped one through traffic to tie the game with just two seconds left on the clock.
It was all Comets from the opening draw of the overtime period, with Alexander Holtz rifling a shot on goal, and then Utica continuing to swarm the Rocket without letting up. Simon Nemec fired a puck toward the back post and Samuel Laberge deflected it behind Primeau to seal the series win for the Comet.
Final Score: Utica 2, Laval 1 (OT)
Utica wins series 2-0
It's a truly disappointing end of the road for the Rocket who played an incredible back half of the season to even qualify for the post-season. Locker clean out and exit interviews are scheduled for Saturday, and will lead to what is sure to be another busy off-season for the Canadiens' AHL affiliate.