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After a long layoff, Laval was back in action on Saturday to open up their Eastern Conference Finals series against Springfield.  They had the lead late but weren’t able to hold on, eventually falling 2-1 in overtime.

Although Brandon Gignac missed Friday’s practice due to illness, he was able to play in this one so Jean-Francois kept his lineup intact from their series clincher against Rochester which meant the team lined up as follows:

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

Ouellet – Belpedio
Niku – Dello
Schueneman – Paquette-Bisson

This was the first game in a week and a half for the Rocket and the first in a week for the Thunderbirds.  It showed.  Early on, both teams were struggling to get any sort of sustained pressure set up and completing successive passes was even a challenge.

Springfield got the first power play of the game when Cedric Paquette was sent off for a hook on Mackenzie MacEachern, sending the top remaining power play to work.  The Thunderbirds came into this series with a success rate of 37.9% but the Rocket did well to not allow them to generate much in the way of scoring chances.

Laval looked to have a scoring chance just before the nine-minute mark but Rafael Harvey-Pinard’s centring pass on a two-on-one was behind Jesse Ylonen.  Missed passes on potential chances was the story of the period for both sides.

As the period progressed, the Rocket started to find their skating legs and slowly started to push the play more into Springfield’s end.  Aside from a quick pass to Lucas Condotta from Joel Teasdale with less than two minutes left in the period though, they didn’t exactly have any good scoring chances.  In the end, it was the perfect prototypical ‘road period’ for the visitors.  The crowd wasn’t in it and the scoring chances were somewhere between non-existent and few and far between.  All in all, the shots were 6-5 for the Rocket in a goalless first 20 minutes.

The Rocket got off to a better start to the second as they were able to continue the pressure from the end of the first period but it didn’t amount to any chances.

Springfield got their best chance of the game to that point just past the two-minute mark of the second as a giveaway on the side boards allowed Sam Anas to set up Klim Kostin in front but he couldn’t get a shot off.  A minute and a half later, Harvey-Pinard had a good slot shot off the rush that was probably Laval’s best chance to that point.  Joel Teasdale drove the net a minute and a half later but his slot shot missed.

Just before the midway point, Cayden Primeau made a big stop off a MacEachern one-timer off the rush that was set up by Dakota Joshua who had won a race to the puck behind the Laval goal.  Springfield maintained possession and put on the pressure, eventually forcing Teasdale to take a slashing call to give the Thunderbirds another turn on the man advantage.  However, Laval did well to hold them at bay once again as they kept Springfield to the outside.

With just under five minutes left, Gignac had a quick pass to Danick Martel who was able to pick up the puck in full flight.  He got about a half step on Tyler Tucker and that was all he needed as he was able to fire one past Joel Hofer to open up the scoring.

A minute later, Will Bitten opted to shoot on a two-on-one.  Primeau made the stop but it once again set up sustained pressure from the Thunderbirds as Laval’s defence started to run around a little.  They were able to get through it at least and generated some pressure of their own in the dying seconds of the period.  It didn’t result in a goal but they got a power play when Tommy Cross went off for tripping with the majority of the time carrying over to the third.  The shots were 14-11 for Springfield in the period but the Rocket had the only goal on the board.

On the carryover power play, Jesse Ylonen had a one-timer early on but that was it for Laval’s chances.  Instead, Springfield had a pair.  MacEachern got a partial step on Ouellet after Jean-Sebastien Dea turned it over at the blueline but Primeau made the stop.  25 seconds later, the Thunderbirds had a two-on-one after a brutal giveaway deep in Springfield’s zone with Primeau making a good stop on Hugh McGing.  The Rocket couldn’t muster up anything on the rest of the advantage.

Not long after the penalty expired, Peter Abbandonato set a pass for Gignac but he whiffed on the one-timer.  Seconds later, Abbandonato set up Gignac again but Hofer made the stop.

Springfield had two good chances at the four-minute mark.  Bitten got off a good shot on a wraparound that Primeau got a piece of before he stretched out to stop Joshua on the rebound to keep the Thunderbirds off the board.

Just past the midway mark, MacEachern was off to the races again and drove the net but Primeau got a piece of it.  Joshua was crashing the net for the rebound but fortunately for Laval, he wasn’t able to connect.

Springfield continued to pressure after that and they were eventually rewarded for their efforts when James Neal sent a pass back to the point for Brady Lyle and the defender was able to squeak the long shot past Primeau to tie it up with just under three minutes left.

Alex Belzile then took a needless interference penalty on Nikita Alexandrov with 1:16 to go, sending the Thunderbirds back to the power play.  Laval did well to kill off the first minute but then held on in the final few seconds with Primeau making a huge stop on Anas in the dying seconds of regulation to send it to overtime.  The shots in the third were 16-13 for the Rocket.

Springfield wasn’t able to muster up anything on the carryover power play so Belzile’s bad penalty didn’t come back to bite them.

Just past the five-minute mark, Harvey-Pinard made a good defensive play to stop Joshua in a one-on-one rush but the Thunderbirds nearly won it seconds later when Nathan Todd rang a shot off the post.

Three minutes later, the fourth line had some good offensive zone time against Springfield’s top line.  However, Xavier Ouellet opted to take a bad-angle shot and the end result was the Thunderbirds exiting with speed.  Seconds later, Matthew Kessel fed Matthew Peca who had time and space to wrist one over Primeau’s glove to seal the comeback victory.

HW Rocket 3 Stars

1st Star: Cayden Primeau – Primeau was sharp throughout the game and for the longest time, it looked like he’d be able to get the shutout.  The tying goal wasn’t a great one but he made more than enough other stops throughout the game to make up for that one while the winner was a good shot.  I was concerned that the time off would stall his stretch of strong performances but that wasn’t the case.

Stats: 37 saves on 39 shots, 1.73 GAA, .949 SV%

2nd Star: Brandon Gignac – I’m continually impressed by how he uses his speed to set up good plays.  Gignac isn’t the most talented player on the ice but he’s consistently one of the hardest workers and a few times a game, his hustle leads to a good scoring chance, extended zone time, or a good defensive play.  In this one, he set up Laval’s only goal and led the Rocket in shots.

Stats: 1 assist, even rating, 6 shots

3rd Star: Danick Martel – Martel was quieter than he had been against Rochester although, to be fair, he played really well last round.  He took some hard hits throughout the night but didn’t get fazed.  He’s at his best when he’s playing with pace and that led to the contest’s opening goal.

Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 3 shots

Honourable Mention: Corey Schueneman – He wasn’t flashy but he made several strong defensive plays and some good breakout passes.  That’s when Schueneman is at his best and after some quieter games to start the playoffs, this was more of what they want to see from him.

Stats: 0 points, +1 rating, 1 shot