Laval’s first-ever playoff series turned out to be quite a memorable one as after they failed to win it on home ice, they returned to Syracuse and needed a late-minute comeback to keep their chances alive before winning in overtime to move on to face Rochester in the next round.
The Series That Was
May 6: Crunch 5, Rocket 3 – Kevin Poulin got the start for Laval in their playoff opener, an understandable decision considering he has fared better on the road than Cayden Primeau. It didn’t work as planned. Alex Belzile scored first before Syracuse popped three before the second minute of the second period expired, resulting in the Rocket chasing the game fairly quickly. That didn’t go over too well as they faded in the third period, allowing the Crunch to draw first blood.
May 7: Rocket 3, Crunch 2 – Playing just 24 hours later in a rather odd scheduling quirk, Laval flipped the script and came back after allowing one early to take the lead in the second period on Belzile’s third of the series. Daniel Walcott – who was a thorn in Laval’s side all series – tied it in the third and it looked like it was going to overtime until Brandon Gignac scored with less than two minutes left in regulation and the Rocket were able to hold onto the lead from there. Cayden Primeau made 36 saves in a stellar playoff debut.
May 12: Rocket 4, Crunch 1 – Following a four-day layoff (seriously, this was a really strange schedule), special teams were a difference-maker in this one. Syracuse had a parade to the penalty box, resulting in seven Rocket power plays. They were able to get goals on two of them from Danick Martel and Cedric Paquette while Jean-Sebastien Dea and Louie Belpedio added empty-netters to give Laval a chance to clinch the series on home ice.
May 14: Crunch 3, Rocket 0 – Laval didn’t take advantage of their opportunity – both in terms of the game and the chance to end the series. The Rocket had countless chances early and couldn’t hit the net with most of those shots. Maxime Lagace was injured early, pressing rookie Hugo Alnefelt into action, a goalie that lost to Laval in the final game of the regular season. But again, they couldn’t muster up much. Eventually, Syracuse was able to break through, scoring twice early in the third to put the game out of reach and force a deciding game.
May 17: Rocket 3, Crunch 2 (OT) – Things were looking pretty grim as Laval was down two at the midway mark of the second period while Lagace was able to play, giving Syracuse their top goaltender back. However, Belzile scored a power play goal to get the Rocket on the board and make it a one-goal game heading into the third. Primeau was pulled with a little under two minutes left for a last-ditch chance to tie it and they were able to do so as Paquette tied it up with just 39 seconds left to force overtime. Danick Martel took a penalty in the extra session, giving Syracuse their only power play of the game but the Rocket killed it off. Martel then made up for his penalty a few shifts later when he set up Gabriel Bourque for the series winner just past the midway point.
Goals: Alex Belzile (4)
Assists: Sami Niku (5)
Points: Sami Niku (5)
+/-: Belpedio/Paquette-Bisson (+3)
PIMS: Danick Martel (6)
Shots: Jean-Sebastien Dea (16)
News And Notes
– Nate Schnarr left Game 4 early and while he was able to come back and finish that game, he was unavailable for the final game of the series against Syracuse. However, he is expected to be available to start the series against Rochester.
– However, Danick Martel is questionable for the start of the next round due to an upper-body injury. He was injured in the final game against the Crunch although he, too, was able to return to finish that one.
– Defenceman Gianni Fairbrother has returned to practice as he works his way back from an upper-body injury suffered in February. He still needs to get through some practices with contact but could be an option towards the end of the series (although with him being off this long, putting him in could be a risk).
– Prior to the start of the Syracuse series, Laval recalled their ‘Black Aces’ from Trois-Rivieres – forwards Peter Abbandonato, Justin Ducharme, Alexandre Fortin, and Max Kaufman (who was a college signing back in March). Abbandonato played in the final game of the opening round.
Last Game’s Lines:
Harvey-Pinard – Dea – Ylonen
Gignac – Paquette – Belzile
Bourque – Abbandonato – Martel
Roy – Teasdale
Ouellet – Belpedio
Niku – Dello
Schueneman – Paquette-Bisson
The Series Ahead
Officially, this is the third round but I’m going to call it the second round since the play-in round isn’t really the first round (it’s a qualifier, not a real round). With that out of the way, here’s the schedule for the Rochester series.
May 22: at Laval
May 23: at Laval
May 25: at Rochester
May 27: at Rochester*
May 29: at Laval*
Last round wasn’t pretty by any stretch although full credit to Laval for finding a way to pull it out in the end. Don’t get fooled by Rochester’s record (they were the play-in team), things are about to get a whole lot tougher for the Rocket.
Buffalo’s farm team has several promising young prospects in Peyton Krebs (a key piece of the Jack Eichel deal), J.J. Peterka, and Jack Quinn while Arttu Ruotsalainen leads the way offensively. Mark Jankowski, Sean Malone, and Michael Mersch are all quality veterans capable of scoring as well. This is a very deep team, even deeper than the conference-winning Utica squad they ousted last round to get to this point. Mattias Samuelsson was added after the NHL season came to an end, bolstering a deep, albeit unheralded, back end that features Mark Alt, Ethan Prow, Jimmy Schuldt, and former Hab Brandon Davidson who is a depth player for the Amerks. In terms of who has the advantage in this series, it’s Rochester by a considerable margin on both fronts.
Where things get interesting is between the pipes. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is injured although his initial diagnosis was a couple of weeks as of the beginning of the month so he’s due back soon. They’re going with Aaron Dell in the meantime, a goalie that can be a bit more hit or miss which could create a window for Laval to strike if they get the version of Dell that struggles. For the time being, goaltending is the advantage that the Rocket have heading into this series.
They’re going to need Cayden Primeau to stay hot (or Kevin Poulin to do well in relief if it comes to that) if they’re going to have a chance of moving on. So, too, would getting some production out of their top line as the duo of Rafael Harvey-Pinard and Jean-Sebastien Dea were pretty quiet relative to their second half output against the Crunch. I’m not overly optimistic about their chances but at least some more of Montreal’s prospects will be playing into late May. From a development standpoint, this can only help, even if they go out quickly.