When head coach J.-F. Houle announced that veteran Kevin Poulin was going to start Game 1 for the Laval Rocket, there wasn’t much argument that it was a poor choice. Poulin posted a strong 18-8-3 record with a .920 save percentage and 2.34 goals-against average during the season. He was arguably the biggest reason that the Rocket were able to make the playoffs.
Houle had also made it clear he was going to split the back-to-back opening games of the series against the Syracuse Crunch. Poulin didn’t play poorly, but the Rocket dropped the first game 5-3, and in Game 2 the net was turned over to Cayden Primeau.
The rest — so far — is history.
Primeau was nothing short of stunning in his first start, facing down 39 shots and stopping 37 of them as the Rocket scored a victory late with Brandon Gignac scoring the game-winner. Primeau slammed the door shut against a furious period facing an extra attacker.
He was much less busy in the first game at Place Bell, stopping 22 of 23 shots as the Rocket put on a defensive clinic to take control of the series. It looked like the Rocket were poised to close things out at home, but the Crunch responded with a defensive shutout of their own, forcing a winner-take-all Game 5.
With everything on the line for this season, Primeau put forth one of his best showings as a professional. He made 32 saves on 34 shots, and with the Rocket down two goals it was him who again the Rocket a fighting chance to win.
His diving stop on Alex Barré-Boulet ended up being a turning point, as the Rocket threw the offence into overdrive and ended up finding the tying goal with the net empty. Primeau’s brilliance didn’t end in regulation; his work on the penalty kill early in overtime was the deciding factor in the game.
Charles Hudon, one of the Eastern Conference’s most dangerous scorers, had three straight chances to beat Primeau from the right circle on the power play. The netminder made a shoulder save, and two more authoritative glove stops to escape a minor penalty.
It was largely because of Primeau that the Rocket advanced to the next round for the first time in 11 years. That’s not to take away from players like Gabrial Bourque (who scored the winner), Alex Belzile, and Sami Niku, who played key roles all series, but without Primeau playing how he has, the Rocket are likely heading home for the summer.
It had been a tough year for Primeau, who played well in the AHL, then when asked to shoulder a tough load for the Montreal Canadiens when they needed their third-string goalie, wasn’t able to do so. With Poulin seemingly in the driver's seat in Laval, and Primeau struggling to find NHL consistency, many wondered what his future was. Through his four starts in the playoffs, he has re-established himself in the pantheon of Canadiens prospects.
Prospect development, especially for goalies, is not a linear path, and to see Primeau get himself back on track after a rough patch is a hugely positive sign. Versus either the division champion Utica Comets or a Rochester Americans team filled to the brim offensive prospects, he will again be at the forefont for the Rocket in Round 3.