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After a split to start the series, Laval was looking to get within a game of clinching their first-round matchup as they hosted Syracuse on Thursday.  They had a solid defensive showing throughout the game and potted a pair of power play goals which were the difference in a 4-1 win.

Coach Jean-Francois Houle opted to keep the same lineup intact from their Game 2 victory, 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

The Crunch got off to a good start with some good early pressure and several shot attempts in the opening minute.  However, Gabriel Fortier was called for high-sticking late in the sequence, giving the Rocket an early power play.

They took advantage of it as after a quiet showing from the first unit, the second wave was able to get set up in Syracuse’s end.  Sami Niku skated the puck down to the faceoff dot before firing a hard cross-ice pass to Danick Martel and he one-timed it past Maxime Lagace to open the scoring.

Nearly three minutes later, Brandon Gignac had a good chance in close off a broken play but Lagace was up to the task.  Later that same shift, Frank Hora was called for delay of game off Laval’s zone entry.  This time, both units were quiet although Martel had a few shot attempts right at the end.

The Crunch had a prime chance right after the advantage.  A shot snuck past Cayden Primeau, resulting in him diving back to try to keep it out.  Later that shift, Corey Schueneman slid to break up a two-on-one pass and while he succeeded, he also tripped Gage Concalves in the process, giving Syracuse their first opportunity with the man advantage.  Nothing came of it aside from one decent look at the end.

On the shift following the penalty, the physicality picked up.  After Primeau covered the puck, Fortier took a run at Mattias Norlinder, sending him to the ice with a hit after the whistle, earning himself his second trip to the box of the period.  However, the power play was largely feeble once again.

Just before the 15-minute mark, Laval’s top line looked to have a good chance as Jean-Sebastien Dea and Rafael Harvey-Pinard were in on a two-on-one but Dea’s pass was broken up.  On the play, Charles Hudon was called for clipping, giving the Rocket their fourth man advantage of the period.  Dea hit the crossbar late in the power play but that’s as close as they got to scoring.

With just over a minute to go, the puck squibbed over to Alex Barre-Boulet off a board battle, allowing him to drive the net.  He tried to stuff it through Primeau’s pads.  The puck stayed out but Primeau spun himself around on the play so he was facing inside his net.  Fortunately for Laval, they were able to get to the loose puck in the slot to get it out of harm’s way.  The Rocket went to the room ahead by one while holding a 7-6 shot advantage although, with their extra power plays, it was somewhat of an underwhelming period.

Two minutes into the second, Harvey-Pinard turned it over just outside the defensive blueline, sending Hudon in off the rush but Primeau was square to the shot and made the stop.  Two minutes later, Laval had one of their better chances when Nate Schnarr made a perfect backhand pass to Louie Belpedio who was coming down the middle off the rush but Lagace made the stop.

A minute and a half after that, the Rocket came in on a two-on-one with Cedric Paquette opting to keep for the shot instead of passing to Alex Belzile.  He didn’t get much on the shot and that allowed Darren Raddysh to quickly fire a stretch pass up-ice to a waiting Remi Elie.  Elie was able to rush in and fire one past Primeau to tie the game.

Just past the midway mark, the Rocket had a two-on-none with Dea and Teasdale but the former’s pass was broken up by Alex Barre-Boulet.  A little over a minute later, Daniel Walcott hit Belpedio from behind, sending the Rocket to another man advantage.  Laval was better this time around as the first wave had some good pressure and Martel rang one off the post at the end but they weren’t able to take the lead.

Norlinder – who didn’t see much action in this one – went off for holding Cole Koepke with just under five minutes left in the frame.  Once again, the penalty kill was sharp and limited the Crunch to one chance in close.  On the shift after the penalty ended, Schnarr was in on a two-on-one with Ylonen but wasn’t able to get the pass across.

The last few minutes were pretty quiet although Devante Smith-Pelly deserves a mention for a pair of big blocks on point shots in the last minute of the period.  While Laval once again held the advantage in shots (7-4 this time), they went to the dressing room all tied up.

Both teams had good chances in the first two and a half minutes of the third – Elie for Syracuse and Gignac for Laval but they were turned aside.  Barre-Boulet then was forced to hook Martel to stop what would have been a prime scoring opportunity after Martel followed his initial shot.  Lagace made a big stop on Harvey-Pinard halfway through the man advantage, stretching out to get to the post before Harvey-Pinard could tuck it home.

Less than two minutes after the penalty expired, it looked like Laval had taken the lead when Xavier Ouellet’s point shot got past Lagace but Paquette made a bit of contact with the netminder, resulting in the goal being waved off.  (There’s no video review in the AHL.)

Syracuse nearly took advantage immediately.  Primeau got caught out of his net on the next shift, leading to a good chance for Dumont while Barre-Boulet rang one off the post seconds later.

Laval got another man advantage after Pierre-Cedric Labrie was called for roughing Tory Dello.  It’s worth noting that Dello was holding onto Labrie’s leg for several seconds before Labrie took the penalty for a retaliatory punch.  This time, the Rocket took advantage with Paquette making up for costing the team a goal as he tipped Dea’s slap shot in to give the home side the lead once more.

Paquette then gave the Crunch a glorious chance to tie it up as he was called for unsportsmanlike conduct in an after-whistle skirmish with Gabriel Dumont three minutes after the goal.  This time, Syracuse kept the puck in the zone for most of the power play but Laval was able to kill it off.

Syracuse opted to pull Lagace with a little over two minutes left but Dea was able to take a pass from Gignac, skate over centre, and flip it into the open net to give them some breathing room.  Lagace was pulled again and once again, Laval potted an empty-netter with Belpedio firing it home from his own end to secure the victory.  The shots in the final frame were 13 apiece, more than what the teams combined for over the first 40 minutes.

HW Rocket 3 Stars

1st Star: Danick Martel – He didn’t play a lot (especially as the game went on) but he showed why he was on the fringes of the NHL just a few years ago.  When he has time and space, he’s a strong offensive threat at this level and he showed it with a power play goal and several other good chances.

Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 4 shots

2nd Star: Cedric Paquette – Paquette was quiet in the first half of the game but made his presence felt, first with some big bodychecks before eventually tipping home the game-winner.  A good showing from the veteran aside from the bad penalty late in the third.

Stats: 1 goal, 1 assist, even rating, 3 shots

3rd Star: Cayden Primeau – It wasn’t pretty from a positioning standpoint, far from it.  But in spite of some ugly moments, he kept all but one shot out of the net.  It’s hard to ask much more than that from a goalie, no matter how much he seemed to be fighting the puck at times.

Stats: 1 goal on 23 shots, 1.00 GAA, .957 SV%

Honourable Mention: Alex Belzile – For an offensive player, Belzile was quite quiet on that front.  But he gets the nod here for his defensive play, particularly on the penalty kill.  He centred the top unit in this one and made several strong plays leading to clears while playing most of the penalty for Syracuse’s late chance.  That’s not normally how he contributes but he played a key role nonetheless.

Stats: 0 points, +1 rating, 0 shots