Wednesday night was the seventh and final game of the Eastern Conference Finals. Laval didn’t come out with much energy in this one, however, as the fatigue and injuries got to them as Springfield was able to skate away with the 4-0 victory.
With Jesse Ylonen being unavailable for this one after being injured early in Monday’s contest, Jean-Francois Houle opted for Peter Abbandonato to take his place while remaining with seven defencemen. The team lined up as follows:
Harvey-Pinard – Paquette – Belzile
Gignac – Dea – Bourque
Teasdale – Abbandonato – Martel
Ouellet – Belpedio
Schueneman – Paquette-Bisson
Niku – Dello
After getting off to a sluggish start last game, the Rocket got off to another one as Springfield put on the pressure early. Luke Witkowski gave Laval a good chance early when he went off for a trip on Brandon Gignac but despite recording four shots, the power play spent a lot of time regrouping or chasing the puck in their own end and they weren’t able to score.
25 seconds after the power play ended, Tobie Paquette-Bisson sent a cross-ice feed for Lucas Condotta who would have had a tap-in but the pass failed to connect. On the next shift, Dakota Joshua tried a stuff play from behind the net that nearly worked but Cayden Primeau kept tight to the post.
After drawing a penalty early, Gignac took one as he went off for hooking. After going 0/29 in the first six games of the series, Matthew Peca snapped that streak quickly as his wrister beat Primeau eight seconds into the advantage to get the Thunderbirds on the board.
Less than three minutes after that, Will Bitten managed to get behind Laval’s defence yet again (this was a problem for the Rocket in this series) but Primeau got a piece of it. Four minutes later, Primeau was beaten by Sam Anas but fortunately for the Rocket, his shot got the crossbar and stayed out.
With two minutes left, Alex Belzile had a glorious opportunity to tie it up after a well-placed cross-ice pass from Rafael Harvey-Pinard. However, Belzile whiffed, missing the wide-open net in the process.
The period didn’t end well for Laval as Xavier Ouellet went off for high-sticking with less than a minute left in the frame. The Rocket killed off the beginning of the penalty without issue but they were still down one as the buzzer sounded. The shots were 15-8 for Springfield, a margin that flatters Laval who struggled considerably for most of the opening 20 minutes.
The rest of the penalty was killed off but the Rocket came out with less life than they had in the first (which was hard to do as they didn’t have much energy).
Just before the three-minute mark, James Neal was left alone off the faceoff due to bad coverage but he didn’t have enough room to deke out Primeau and couldn’t get the wraparound to go. Three minutes later, Neal got another opportunity after Paquette-Bisson gifted him a breakaway off a bad pass in the offensive zone but Primeau got a piece. A minute after that, Anas was robbed by Primeau’s glove in the slot after he was lost in coverage.
Eventually, the porous coverage came back to bite them. Just before the midway mark, Joshua was able to skate in uncovered off the left wing and wristed one over Primeau’s glove, then had some words for Laval’s bench just after.
The Rocket had a decent chance to get that one back a minute later when Joel Teasdale put a good set-up pass on Sami Niku’s stick in the high slot but his shot went wide. A minute later, Primeau came up big again, stopping a one-timer from Peca on a two-on-one.
Belzile’s tough night continued a minute after that when he was called for a trip on Bitten. It was a trip although Belzile and the Rocket didn’t appreciate the ease in which Bitten went down. Springfield’s power play made them pay again as Hugh McGing sent a pass across to Nathan Todd who was lost in coverage with too much puck watching. Harvey-Pinard forced him to change his angle but it worked in Todd’s favour as he was able to beat Primeau short-side to make it 3-0. They kept coming after that but Primeau did his best to keep them in it.
Klim Kostin took a hooking penalty with just over three minutes to go and to Laval’s credit, they did everything right except for scoring. The puck never left Springfield’s zone, they had seven shots on goal, and a few others were blocked. They just couldn’t get it past Charlie Lindgren and headed back to the dressing room down three with a period left in their season. Shots on goal in the middle stanza were 20-13 for the Thunderbirds.
Laval came out with some good pressure early. Teasdale had an early stuff play stopped while Harvey-Pinard hit the post a little past the three-minute mark. Two and a half minutes after that, Lindgren had the save of the night, robbing Martel with the glove after Condotta fed a perfect pass in tight to set up what looked like a sure goal.
A little before the seven-minute mark, the defence started to falter again. A failed clear led to McGing being sent in all alone but his backhander went wide. A minute later, Laval won the faceoff in the offensive zone and immediately coughed up a two-on-one; Bitten sent a pass to Mackenzie MacEachern but his shot went wide.
Teasdale and Gignac had chances with a little over eight minutes left to get Laval on the board but Lindgren was able to stretch out to keep the puck out. Primeau was pulled with more than six minutes left and the Rocket had some decent looks to get on the board – ultimately outshooting Springfield 13-5 in the final period – but they couldn’t get one behind Lindgren while Joshua added the empty-netter with 40 seconds left to secure their ticket to play Chicago for the Calder Cup.
HW Rocket 3 Stars
1st Star: Cayden Primeau – He was basically the only reason this game was remotely competitive, making several big saves to keep it close. While the playoffs end on a disappointing note, Primeau himself had quite a good run and he certainly helped his cause when it comes to sending a message to management that he can still be part of Montreal’s future plans.
Stats: 36 saves on 39 shots, 3.30 GAA, .923 SV%
2nd Star: Sami Niku – As the one Laval defenceman that was capable of generating any sort of offensive chances, Niku stood out in a good way. He had several good plays in the offensive end and had one of his better games of the series in the defensive end. Not a bad way to finish his time with the Habs; it’d be very surprising to see him return next season.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 3 shots
3rd Star: Danick Martel – Laval’s leading scorer in the playoffs, Martel at least went down shooting in this one. He had a few good chances but Lindgren just wasn’t getting beaten in this one. For me, he went into the playoffs as a long shot to be invited to return next season but his performance in these three series might be enough to get him another look after all.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 7 shots
Honourable Mention: Joel Teasdale – He didn’t play a lot but Teasdale made a few well-timed passes to set up chances, won some board battles, and did a lot of the little things that stand out on a night where not a lot went right. It wasn’t a great playoff performance overall but he ended on a decent note at least.
Stats: 0 points, even rating, 2 shots