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Laval kicked off the North Division Final on Sunday looking to get an early edge on Rochester.  They got an offensive explosion with five goals from the bottom end of their forward group as they picked up a big 6-1 victory.

Jean-Francois Houle opted to make one lineup change from the deciding game against Syracuse as Nate Schnarr was able to return after missing that game with an injury.  He came in for Kevin Roy with the lines being as follows:

Harvey-Pinard – Dea – Ylonen
Gignac – Paquette – Belzile
Bourque – Abbandonato – Martel
Schnarr – Teasdale

Ouellet – Belpedio
Schueneman – Paquette-Bisson
Niku – Dello

Both teams had good chances to open the scoring early.  On the opening shift, Laval came in on a two-on-one.  Jesse Ylonen sent a pass to Jean-Sebastien Dea who tried an awkward one-time wrister that Aaron Dell was able to get a piece of.  A minute later, J.J. Peterka was sent in all alone on a breakaway but Cayden Primeau got a pad on it.

One thing that was evident in the first few minutes of this one is that this will be a much different series than the one against the Crunch.  Syracuse and Laval were content to try to out-defence each other, making for limited free-flowing action.  The pace of this one was considerably higher.

Rochester got their first power play of the game when Xavier Ouellet was sent off for interference as he held up Mark Jankowski on a net drive.  The Americans had lots of zone time but couldn’t generate much; Brett Murray had a decent look just after the advantage expired and that was about it.

A minute and a half after the penalty ended, Ylonen carried the puck in on another two-on-one, this time with Joel Teasdale.  After passing on the first one, Ylonen held onto it to try to get a shot off but his delay allowed the defender to poke the puck away.

Less than two minutes later, Ouellet saved a sure goal for Rochester.  Peyton Krebs was allowed to get to the front of the net and tried to stuff one past Primeau, who stretched out to make the pad stop.  In doing so, he was outside of his crease, allowing Krebs to corral the rebound and try a wraparound but Ouellet dove to cover the goal line at the last second.

On his next shift, Ouellet made a nice defensive play on Peterka to poke the puck off his stick in transition.  However, the winger recovered the puck, skated to the middle of the blueline, and wristed a long shot past Primeau to open up the scoring.  Alex Belzile had a good chance to tie it up off the draw roughly 30 seconds later but Dell got a piece of the shot.

However, the Rocket were able to tie it soon after.  Brandon Gignac’s point shot caught a piece of Danick Martel and went up and over Dell.  The referee immediately waved it off but with Laval celebrating, play was stopped to go to video review.  It didn’t take long to confirm that the puck had clearly crossed the line and the game was tied with less than two minutes left.  The score held to the buzzer with the Amerks holding a 15-11 shot advantage.

Rochester had plenty of pressure early on, including off the opening shift when a defensive zone giveaway gave them a tight two-on-one but the pass went wide.  Fortunately for Laval, for all of the pressure the Americans had, it only resulted in a single shot over the first five minutes of the period.

Just past the five-minute mark, Belzile stopped a clearing attempt and dropped the puck back for Martel.  Martel stepped into a shot that Dell stopped but he thought he had it covered near his left pad.  He didn’t.  Instead, the puck squirted to his right and Martel followed up on his shot, tapping it home into what was basically an empty net to give the Rocket the lead.

Three minutes later, Harvey-Pinard stole the puck at the offensive blueline and dipsy-doodled his way around Mark Alt, creating a quick two-on-one.  He slid the puck over to Cedric Paquette who one-timed it home to double Laval’s advantage.

Rochester got a good opportunity to get that one back when Dea was called for an offensive zone hook on Arttu Ruotsalainen less than a minute after the goal.  The Amerks had four shots on this man advantage but Primeau was up to the task.

Seconds after the penalty ended, Martel got the puck on the right side of the ice and fired a shot at Dell.  It wasn’t much of one but Dell couldn’t corral the rebound and the puck bounced around before finding its way back to Martel, this time on the left side of the ice and the winger fired it home for the hat-trick, ending Dell’s night in the process.  Michael Houser took over between the pipes.

Once again, Laval followed up a goal with a penalty with Gabriel Bourque going off for a hold on former Hab Brandon Davidson.  The penalty kill did well but just as it ended, Harvey-Pinard was called for a trip on Brett Murray, sending the Americans back to the power play.  Martel had a good scoring chance despite being shorthanded but was stopped on a two-on-one.

Seconds after Harvey-Pinard’s penalty ended, Davidson was called for interference on Bourque on a call that could be best described as an ‘even-up’.  The Rocket’s power play was quiet but they had a couple of scoring chances just after it expired.  All in all, it was a strong period for Laval who outscored Rochester by three while outshooting them 15-11.

The Amerks came out with a purpose to make it a chippier game to start the third and the first few minutes featured some big hits and scrums but nothing much came of it.

Just before the five-minute mark, Ben Holmstrom was called for a cross-check on Corey Schueneman, a hit that actually sent him to the room for a few minutes although he did return.  On the same play, Nick Boka hooked Bourque to prevent what would have been a Grade A scoring chance but that one went uncalled.

The ensuing power play didn’t generate much but Davidson was called for a slash on Martel that broke his stick, giving the Rocket a brief five-on-three.  Martel was set up all alone in the slot seconds later but decided to pass for some reason with his feed for Louie Belpedio missing the mark.  Laval retained possession and the puck went to Sami Niku who threaded a perfect cross-ice pass to Martel who one-timed it past Houser for his fourth of the night.

Laval got another chance with the man advantage when Boka got an extra two minutes for roughing on Ouellet.  The Rocket didn’t do much on the power play again but just as the penalty ended, Schnarr’s wrister from the point hit a defenceman and went into the net to make it 6-1; Mattias Norlinder picked up his first assist on the playoffs on the play.

On the next shift, Martel went in on a two-on-one with Gignac.  Martel got the pass across but Gignac wasn’t able to get a quick shot off.  It didn’t really matter in a five-goal game.

With six seconds left, Holmstrom came across the ice to deliver an elbow to Norlinder, a hit that may draw a review from the league and will likely have Norlinder questionable for Monday’s rematch as it’s the type of hit that could produce concussion-like symptoms.  It was a disappointing finish to what was a big game for the Rocket as they drew first blood in the series.

HW Rocket 3 Stars

1st Star: Danick Martel – When he’s on his game, Martel can be a top producer in the AHL; he has been one in the past.  He was on in this one and was unquestionably the most dangerous player on either side.  With four goals, there’s no way the top star could have gone to anyone else but him.

Stats: 4 goals, +3 rating, 10 shots

2nd Star: Cayden Primeau – In a five-goal game, Primeau’s performance largely gets overshadowed but he made some big saves early and often when it was close.  That went a long way to preventing Rochester from getting back into it.  A solid showing to start the series.

Stats: 31 saves on 32 shots, 59:55 TOI, 1.00 GAA, .969 SV%

3rd Star: Nate Schnarr – His ice time was limited but he was solid.  He had a couple of points, played with some physicality, and had a big shot block in the third period.  For someone that didn’t look like he was 100% healthy, he had a pretty strong outing.

Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, +2 rating, 2 shots

Honourable Mention: Xavier Ouellet – Ouellet didn’t play a lot in the third period with the game out of reach but he was very busy early on and made the big defensive play on Krebs to save a goal in the first.  If that goes in, the complexion of this game is almost certainly different so it’s worth the extra mention here.  In the grand scheme of things, that was a critical play.

Stats: 0 points, -1 rating, 4 PIMS, 3 shots