Laval needed a couple of victories in the final week of the regular season to avoid having to play in the play-in round to battle for a playoff spot. Mission accomplished on that front as they were able to secure two wins to earn the third seed in the North Division for their first-ever playoff appearance.
The Week That Was
Apr. 27: Marlies 5. Rocket 4 (OT) – Laval squandered a two-goal lead in the first period and found themselves trailing after 40 minutes before Rafael Harvey-Pinard struck again early in the third to at least secure an extra point. However, Kevin Poulin’s tough outing continued in overtime when Joey Anderson picked up the winner.
Apr. 28: Rocket 5, Marlies 4 (OT) – The script wasn’t all that different in the rematch. Laval scored twice in the first period again and lost the lead by the end of the second. After Anderson’s second of the game gave Toronto the lead in the third, Laval was able to get the key tying goal when Brandon Gignac tied it up. This time, the Rocket got a power play in overtime and capitalized as Alex Belzile potted the winner at nearly the identical time as the winner from the night before.
Apr. 30: Rocket 5, Crunch 1 – With Syracuse having clinched the second seed in the division, they sat most of their top players. Laval, not having clinched the third seed yet, played all of their regulars. It showed. Poulin was sharp in goal, Cedric Paquette scored twice, and Corey Schueneman had his first goal since being sent back down as the Rocket took care of business.
Goals: Jean-Sebastien Dea (26)
Assists: Rafael Harvey-Pinard (35)
Points: Rafael Harvey-Pinard (56)
+/-: Rafael Harvey-Pinard (+29)
PIMS: Louie Belpedio (92)
Shots: Danick Martel (174)
News And Notes
– Louie Belpedio left Saturday’s game against Syracuse and was taken to the hospital for precautionary measures. However, he was back at practice on Wednesday.
– The Rocket are getting Mattias Norlinder back after his contract in Sweden came to an end. He had a strong showing in the SHL playoffs with six points in nine games and while he may have a limited role in the playoffs (since he has been gone for so long), it’ll be good for his development to keep playing a little longer at least.
– Cam Hillis quietly returned to the lineup after being out for more than a month with an injury. He played once but was a healthy scratch in the final game. He’s likely to be a scratch to start the Syracuse series.
Last Game’s Lines:
Harvey-Pinard – Dea – Belzile
Bourque – Schnarr – Teasdale
Gignac – Paquette – Ylonen
Martel – Beaudin – Smith-Pelly
Ouellet – Belpedio
Schueneman – Paquette-Bisson
Niku – Dello
The Series Ahead
With the AHL introducing the play-in round, they’ve cut down on the series lengths for the first two rounds to make up for it. Accordingly, their matchup against Syracuse is a best three-of-five. The schedule is as follows:
May 6: at Syracuse
May 7: at Syracuse
May 12: at Laval
May 14: at Laval*
May 17: at Syracuse*
The Rocket have punched above their weight class for most of the season and head coach Jean-Francois Houle and his staff deserve full marks for getting the best out of this group. But the last two times Laval has played the Crunch in a meaningful game on the road with both teams dressing their ‘A’ lineup, they’ve been beaten handily. The Rocket, in general, have struggled badly on the road this season and they’re going to have to get at least one on the road. That’s not a good sign for this matchup.
Syracuse has the better forwards while Laval has the better defence as long as Belpedio is able to stay healthy. But right now, I don’t trust Laval’s goaltending. Cayden Primeau is hit or miss and Kevin Poulin is starting to show some cracks after a season that I don’t think anyone expected. It has been months and neither one has established himself as a true starter. That’s never a good thing heading into the playoffs and isn’t a good sign either.
Laval can win this series if they can get some balanced scoring. Right now, only the Jean-Sebastien Dea line has scored with any consistency although Nate Schnarr’s trio has been getting better as of late on that end while being the checking group. Can Cedric Paquette get a third line going? (Can Paquette stay healthy for more than a week is a subplot for that question.) If they can get three lines scoring, they’ll have a chance. But it hasn’t been very often that they’ve been able to do so. They’ll need it if they want to secure their first-ever playoff series victory.