It was a must-win game for Laval on Monday as they looked to stay alive against the Thunderbirds and force a Game 7. They got some key contributions from their veterans and got the job done as they skated away with a 5-1 victory.
The Rocket made a pair of lineup changes for this one. The Kevin Roy experiment didn’t go well on Saturday so Jean-Francois Houle elected to go back to seven defencemen with Gianni Fairbrother returning. Meanwhile, Brandon Gignac was able to return from his injury with Jean-Christophe Beaudin coming out. The lines were as follows:
Harvey-Pinard – Paquette – Belzile
Gignac – Dea – Bourque
Teasdale – Martel – Ylonen
Ouellet – Belpedio
Schueneman – Paquette-Bisson
Niku – Dello
Laval didn’t come out with much energy, to put it nicely. They had plenty of icings early on but aside from an early look when Lucas Condotta sent a quick pass from behind the net out front, they didn’t have any scoring chances in the entire period.
Devante Smith-Pelly was called for an early high-sticking penalty on Hugh McGing, giving Springfield an early four-minute advantage. James Neal came out firing to start that power play but beyond that, they couldn’t generate much in the way of chances despite having a lot of zone time.
In the meantime, Laval went more than ten minutes without a shot on goal and past the 11-minute mark, they had all of one. Fortunately for the Rocket, the Thunderbirds weren’t generating much either. Considering both teams had played overtime games on Friday and Saturday, that shouldn’t be entirely surprising.
Springfield got another chance with the man advantage with three minutes to go when Danick Martel went off for slashing but once again, Laval’s penalty kill was sharp as they extended their successful streak to 28 straight to start the series. The Rocket got through a listless period unscathed on the scoresheet but they were down a key winger as Jesse Ylonen left early on following a hit from Mackenzie MacEachern and didn’t return. Meanwhile, the shots in the period were 9-5 for the home side.
The opening shift of the second period was more eventful with both teams trading chances. Springfield got their best chance at the three-minute mark when Corey Schueneman had a brutal giveaway in the slot right to Tanner Kaspick but Cayden Primeau made the stop.
Less than two minutes later, the Thunderbirds completed a successful alley-oop pass and Will Bitten was off to the races but Primeau got a pad on it. That proved to be crucial as after Laval dumped it in the other way, Joel Hofer stopped it to leave it for Tommy Cross but they got crossed up. Cross wound up rushing a pass ahead that went right to the outstretched stick of Martel who fired it into the open corner of the net to give the Rocket the lead five minutes into the frame.
Just past the midway mark, Jean-Sebastien Dea, who is known more for his offensive ability, made a perfectly-timed dive to break up a mini two-on-one in tight that would likely have resulted in a tap-in had the pass got through.
With six minutes left in the period, Rafael Harvey-Pinard was called for a trip on McGing, giving Springfield another crack on the man advantage but only after Primeau had to stretch across for a cross-crease stop on Luke Witkowski on the delayed penalty. Dakota Joshua just missed a tip-in in close but aside from that Laval, got the job done shorthanded once again.
The Rocket got their first turn on the power play late in the period when Nikita Alexandrov went off for high-sticking. Gignac had a couple of quick looks early but that was all they could muster up; by the end of the period, Joshua and MacEachern were playing keep-away. However, Laval had the lead, a bit of carryover power play time, and a 12-11 advantage on the shot clock so while it may not have been pretty, they got the job done in the period.
They didn’t get anything going on the carryover advantage but they got a goal soon after. Martel sent a pass up for Bourque who got control at the Springfield blueline. He had a half-step on Cross, skated in, and fired one over Hofer’s glove to double Laval’s lead.
The Thunderbirds came close to getting that back three minutes later when they came in on an odd-man rush but Primeau got across to make the stop. On the next shift, he stopped Sam Anas in tight to keep them off the board.
Three minutes later, Gignac sprung Martel for a breakaway from the blueline and the winger made a quick deke before finding the small gap between the far post and Hofer’s skate to make it a 3-0 game and give Laval some much-needed breathing room.
A minute after that, they had a chance to really end it early when Witkowski was sent off for a high stick on Bourque. However, the Rocket couldn’t get anything gone although they managed to get two minutes closer to victory if nothing else.
Springfield picked up the pressure after that and they were rewarded for their efforts with just under five minutes left. Laval won a faceoff but turned it over soon after right to Nathan Todd; he sent a cross-ice pass for Matthew Peca who wristed it past Primeau to break the shutout bid.
The Thunderbirds pulled Hofer with 3:27 to go to try to get the deficit down but Cross had another bad giveaway, this time to Gignac, who buried the empty-netter.
A minute later, Martel set up Condotta who went in all alone. He made a good move but Hofer got enough of the shot with the pad to keep it out. On the play, Cross cross-checked Martel, sending Laval to the power play. This time, Condotta wasn’t denied as he redirected Xavier Ouellet’s point shot past Hofer with 40 seconds left to end the scoring as Laval skated away with the crucial victory. The shots in the final frame were 14-11 for the Rocket who saved their best for last.
HW Rocket 3 Stars
1st Star: Cayden Primeau – The end result is somewhat misleading as this was a very close game for all but a few minutes. Laval didn’t play well in the first two periods and Primeau did well to shut the door. His rebound control – normally spotty – was strong and he just didn’t give Springfield many looks, allowing Laval to get the lead and hold it from there. Another stellar outing from the youngster.
Stats: 30 saves on 31 shots, 1.00 GAA, .968 SV%
2nd Star: Danick Martel – For a while, it looked like his lucky opening goal might be the only one of the game but he made a good pass to set up Bourque’s goal while making a nice move on the breakaway to get the insurance marker. Martel had some good moments shorthanded as well to cap off a solid all-around game.
Stats: 2 goals, 1 assist, +4 rating, 7 shots, 2 PIMS
3rd Star: Brandon Gignac – Boy, did Laval ever miss Gignac. He’s just one player but his speed gives the Rocket a gear they don’t have without him. He was tenacious all over the ice in this one and was rewarded for his efforts as his hustle helped to set up his empty-netter. He’s clearly not 100% but he was a difference-maker.
Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2 rating, 4 shots
Honourable Mention: Gabriel Bourque – Part of me wants to highlight Lucas Condotta here who had another quietly solid game but Bourque’s goal early in the third really started to turn things around for Laval. Instead of playing on their heels, that goal got them going more aggressively and things only got better from there so the veteran certainly earned this spot.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 2 shots