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Laval went into Saturday’s matinee matchup against Syracuse with a chance to win the best-of-five series.  However, some missed opportunities early proved costly as the Crunch forced a deciding game with a 3-0 victory.

Jean-Francois Houle opted to leave a winning lineup alone, meaning the lines were as follows:

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

Ouellet – Belpedio
Schueneman – Paquette-Bisson
Niku – Dello

There was plenty of physicality in the opening few minutes with neither team getting enough time and space to get many scoring chances with Brandon Gignac’s shot from the slot that went wide being the best opportunity in the opening five minutes.  The first shot on goal for either side came just before the four-minute mark.

After that, Cayden Primeau had a bit of adventure.  He failed to corral a weak shot from the point, creating a rebound and some chaos that eventually had him sprawled out on the ice, flailing to keep the puck out of the net.  He managed to do so on that occasion but he didn’t have a chance on the next one.

After Mattias Norlinder lost a board battle to Anthony Richard, the winger was able to circle around to the front of the net.  Meanwhile, Cole Koepke did well to get separation from Tobie Paquette-Bisson; Richard sent a cross-ice feed over and Koepke had an empty net to shoot at, making no mistake.

Norlinder nearly made up for the soft play on the boards three minutes later as he got the puck at the point and made a nifty play to get around the defender and right into the slot.  However, Alex Green blocked the shot but it was still an impressive (and confident) play from Norlinder.

Just past the midway point of the period, Maxime Lagace covered up the puck which isn’t notable in itself.  However, Gabriel Dumont pushed Alex Belzile into Lagace on the play, knocking off the netminder’s mask and more importantly, causing what looked to be a left leg injury which caused him to leave the game, putting rookie Hugo Alnefelt into the fray.  To add insult to injury, Dumont got the only penalty on the play.

Laval’s power play was dangerous early on with Jean-Sebastien Dea ringing one off the post early and seconds later, Jesse Ylonen caught the crossbar.  Unfortunately, they didn’t hit the net and that was a problem for them all game long.  Primeau made a nice stop on a one-timer from Charles Hudon off the rush just after the penalty ended.  Ylonen had a good chance a couple of minutes later in the slot and, you guessed it, the shot went wide.

The Rocket got another chance with the man advantage late in the frame when Green was called for a trip on Cedric Paquette.  Once again, the first unit generated a good chance – this time on a perfect tic-tac-toe passing play – but, once again, it went wide.  The period ended with Syracuse leading 1-0 and up 13-7 on the shot clock with Laval undoubtedly well ahead in scoring chances that drew iron or the glass behind the net.

Primeau was sharp to start the second after a blown defensive assignment left two Crunch players unguarded in front.  The puck went to Daniel Walcott but Primeau saw through the screen to make the stop.  On the next shift, he stood tall again on a strong shot from Remi Elie.  It took until nearly the six-minute mark for Laval to hit the net with a shot.

Just before the seven-minute mark, Sami Niku lost his balance in the defensive zone, never a good thing.  He turned it over, allowing Gabriel Fortier to set up Otto Somppi for a hard one-timer but his shot caught the post and stayed out.

Syracuse got their first power play a little over a minute later when Brandon Gignac tripped Walcott.  However, it was Laval that controlled the play.  Paquette drove the net in the early going but couldn’t get a shot off while a two-on-one came moments later with Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Belzile but Harvey-Pinard’s centring pass just missed.  They were able to kill off the rest of the penalty without any issues.

One of the risks of running 11 forwards is that if a forward goes down, the bench starts to look thin in a hurry.  Nate Schnarr missed some time after being part of a Crunch sandwich (but did return) while Paquette also left late in the period.  Neither team mustered up much in the second half of the period – Gignac drove the net hard in the last minute and ran into the goal post but that’s as close as Laval got to tying it up before the buzzer.  Shots on goal in the period were 11-7 for Syracuse.

The Rocket had a glorious chance to tie it up in the opening seconds of the third as Dea and Louie Belpedio had a two-on-one just 20 seconds in but the centring feed from Dea was broken up by Fredrik Claesson.  That proved costly.

A minute later, Walcott took a run at Corey Schueneman which caught Paquette’s eye.  Seconds later, Paquette and Walcott were mixing it up in front of the net.  Both players had several penalty-worthy moments but only Paquette was called, giving Syracuse the man advantage.  On that power play, Xavier Ouellet pushed Dumont into Primeau, knocking the netminders’ stick away.  Right after that, Alex Barre-Boulet slid a cross-ice feed for Elie and he slipped one between Primeau’s pads on a shot that would have been easily stoppable had he had his stick.

Four minutes later, Niku had another turnover, this time near his own blueline.  Simon Ryfors got control and sent it ahead to Richard who was in with speed, time, and space.  He quickly wristed one past Primeau to make it 3-0 and put things out of reach.

By this point, Laval’s frustration was getting the better of them although the officials had put their whistles away at this point.  Near the midway mark, Paquette got away with a boarding penalty and Belpedio got away with a clipping penalty seconds later.  In the second half, there were some more obvious Laval penalty-worthy plays that went uncalled.

Primeau did his best to keep Laval in it, stopping Dumont on a two-on-one just after the halfway point of the period and then stopped Koepke on a breakaway four minutes later.  However, the Rocket couldn’t muster up much in the way of quality chances, even after pulling Primeau for the extra attacker with just under five minutes left.  In the end, Syracuse held on for the shared shutout, sending the series to a do-or-die Game 5 on Tuesday.

HW Rocket 3 Stars

1st Star: Cayden Primeau – The numbers weren’t as strong as Thursday night but I think Primeau played better in this one than he did in the Game 3 win.  While there were some moments where he was out of position again, he was steadier from a positional standpoint and came up with several big saves to keep it close for a while.  A solid outing despite the loss.

Stats: 3 goals allowed on 37 shots, 3.25 GAA, .919 SV%

2nd Star: Alex Belzile – His linemates were fairly quiet (Ylonen had some chances but just couldn’t hit the net) but Belzile was the steady presence on this trio and led the game in shots on goal.  As a veteran leader, he stayed within himself at a time when a lot of his teammates started to run around as the game went on.

Stats: 0 points, even rating, 6 shots

3rd Star: Xavier Ouellet – I didn’t like the play where he pushed Dumont into Primeau that led to the second goal which may very well have been the backbreaker but aside from that, he had a strong, steady game while logging some heavy minutes.

Stats: 0 points, even rating, 2 shots

Honourable Mention: Brandon Gignac – From an energy standpoint, Gignac might have been Laval’s most noticeable player.  He had a couple of good net drives and played a good physical game.  They’ll take that most nights from a bottom-six player.

Stats: 0 points, -2 rating, 3 shots