After a tough outing on Wednesday, Laval looked to even up their series in Game 4 as they hosted Springfield on Friday night. It took a bit of extra time but they did just that as the Rocket skated away with a 3-2 overtime victory.
The Rocket opted to make a trio of lineup changes for this one with some emphasis on adding some extra grit in the lineup. Gabriel Bourque was able to return from his injury, meaning that Joshua Roy came out after making his pro debut in Game 3. Devante Smith-Pelly was also inserted up front in place of Peter Abbandonato while Brandon Gignac is injured. Instead of opting to replace him with a forward, Jean-Francois Houle put in Gianni Fairbrother on the back end in his first game in more than three months. The new-look lines were as follows:
Harvey-Pinard – Paquette – Ylonen
Martel – Dea – Belzile
Bourque – Schnarr- Teasdale
Condotta – Smith-Pelly
Ouellet – Belpedio
Schueneman – Paquette-Bisson
Niku – Dello
As expected, both teams came out with plenty of physicality. However, Springfield also came to play while Laval was more fixated on the rough stuff early on.
Last game, several Rocket players were guilty of lazy clearing attempts including Xavier Ouellet. Evidently, the captain didn’t learn from his mistake. From behind his net, he looked off any simple outlet passes, instead opting for a half-slapper around the boards. That went right to Dakota Joshua who quickly fed Mackenzie MacEachern and the winger skated in unimpeded and lifted the puck past Cayden Primeau to open the scoring less than four minutes in. Perhaps Ouellet would learn from his mistake this time.
A few minutes later, Bourque completely fell asleep in defensive coverage in his own end which allowed Calle Rosen to skate in basically on a breakaway but Primeau made the stop.
As it turned out, Ouellet didn’t learn from his mistake. Less than four minutes after the goal, he attempted another lazy half-slapper, this time looking for a redirect into the Springfield end. It missed by a mile and went for icing. Off the draw, the Thunderbirds put up plenty of pressure in front of Primeau and the puck eventually bounced to Joshua who tapped it home to double the lead. Two goals off two lazy plays from Ouellet. Third time’s a charm on learning the lesson, perhaps?
Just after the midway mark, Tobie Paquette-Bisson was called for slashing but it was Laval that had the best chance as Louie Belpedio nearly scored on a backdoor centring feed. The Rocket killed off the rest of the advantage without any issue and found their skating legs there after as they put together several good shifts but couldn’t get it past Joel Hofer.
Laval then got a glorious opportunity. Will Bitten tripped up Danick Martel late in the period and then a dozen seconds later, Steven Santini went off for roughing after he basically punched Rafael Harvey-Pinard in the face. Martel caught the crossbar early in the two-man advantage and the Rocket put up plenty of pressure but couldn’t get one on the board.
That is, until the dying second of the period. Literally. With 2.7 seconds left, Laval won the draw and Belpedio sent it over to Ouellet. His shot was redirected by Jean-Sebastien Dea in front and past Hofer. The green light went on instead of the red light but after video review, it was ruled a good goal, cutting the deficit to one with about one-tenth of a second left while it was the first power play goal of the entire series for either side. The shots in a very eventful opening 20 minutes were 26-19 for the Rocket and they still had a bit of carryover power play time to start the second.
However, they couldn’t do anything with that. 30 seconds after Santini’s penalty ended, Laval nearly tied it up as Martel went in on a two-on-one with Jesse Ylonen. He opted for the shot and got a good one off but Hofer got a blocker on it.
A minute later, Cedric Paquette came in on a rush from the left side and got a shot off that just missed the net. Just seconds after that, he effectively got a do-over, coming in on a rush from the left side once again and this time, he squeaked a shot under Hofer’s blocker to tie the game up. Ouellet got an assist on the play, his second of the game to help offset his early mistakes.
Springfield had a good chance to tie it just past the seven-minute mark when MacEachern got behind Belpedio. He didn’t have much room to work with though and tried to go five-hole with a between-the-legs shot but Primeau kept the pads squeezed tight.
Laval had a pair of two-on-ones two minutes later but couldn’t capitalize. First, Bourque’s centring feed to Martel was a little too high and a very slow-developing rush with Smith-Pelly leading the way with Lucas Condotta resulted in a quick drop pass to Nate Schnarr but Hofer made the easy stop on the shot.
The Thunderbirds got another chance with the man advantage when Belpedio was called for a hold on MacEachern. They had a lot of zone time but Laval once again did quite well to keep them on the perimeter and they were able to kill the penalty off, allowing them to head to the room in a tie game. The shots on goal were ten apiece in the period.
Laval looked to strike early in the third as Alex Belzile and Harvey-Pinard both had good looks in close in the opening 13 seconds; Hofer had to slide out to make a particularly strong stop on Harvey-Pinard’s shot. Just over a minute later, Schnarr’s centring pass to Ylonen from behind the net just missed as the Finn would have had a chance at a tap-in had it been on the mark.
Springfield then found their skating legs again and had several good shifts in Laval’s zone before things really opened up for some back-and-forth play. There weren’t many big scoring chances during that ten-minute stretch but it was some of the best hockey of the series in terms of speed of play with lots of hitting on both sides.
With just over four minutes left, Rosen had plenty of time to skate into a hard slapper from the point that beat Primeau clean but caught the iron. Seconds later, Paquette was called for a slash on Luke Witkowski. Considering what both sides had gotten away with, that was a bit of a surprising call.
The power play was much more dangerous this time around with plenty of Springfield zone time which led to Nathan Todd hitting the crossbar. Seconds later, Bitten got in behind the defence and was on a breakaway but Primeau didn’t bite on the fake and made the stop. Laval was able to kill off the rest of the penalty and hold on the rest of the period to get to overtime. Shots on goal in the third were 12-9 for the Thunderbirds.
Sami Niku had a good chance in the opening minute of overtime as he got a shot through some traffic but Hofer made the stop. Just before the three-minute mark, the MacEachern-Joshua-Bitten line (that has given Laval fits all series) had a fantastic cycle shift that had the Rocket defenders exhausted. Springfield got a full change in but Primeau did well to swallow up Nikita Alexandrov’s shot to allow Laval to get a fresh set of skaters on the ice.
On that next shift, Niku got behind Springfield’s goal and sent a quick pass to Harvey-Pinard up front. Instead of quickly firing it, Harvey-Pinard took his time and squared up his shot and it was the right decision as he was able to squeak one through Hofer’s pads to end the game and tie the series. Fittingly with how physical this one was, a long skirmish broke out after that. This feels like a good time to mention that the two teams are back at it on Saturday.
HW Rocket 3 Stars
1st Star: Cayden Primeau – Eight minutes in, Primeau was getting peppered, Laval was down 2-0, and things didn’t look good. However, he shut the door the rest of the way, eventually allowing the Rocket to come back and secure the win. His biggest stop came on the breakaway from Bitten late in regulation, some nice revenge after Bitten scored four times on Wednesday.
Stats: 42 saves on 44 shots, 1.87 GAA, .955 SV%
2nd Star: Rafael Harvey-Pinard – The front line has been held quiet for long stretches of this series but Harvey-Pinard is starting to make his presence felt more regularly. And even if he wasn’t, he scored the overtime winner so he has to be on here.
Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 5 shots
3rd Star: Jean-Sebastien Dea – For Laval’s leading scorer during the season, Dea has been quiet in this series as both teams’ top scorers have been shut down. That changed in this one. His last-second goal in the first was crucial and he was much more involved in the offensive end after a particularly rough game on Wednesday. A very strong bounce-back performance from the veteran.
Stats: 1 goal, even rating, 11 shots
Honourable Mention: Gianni Fairbrother – He’s going to make it hard to take him out of the lineup even if Gignac can return. He was used a fair bit more than Mattias Norlinder was in that seventh defender slot and he played a smart, physical game. For me, it was telling that with a defensive zone faceoff late in regulation, he was trusted to be out on the ice. I don’t think they could have asked for more after being off for 13 weeks.
Stats: 0 points, +2 rating, 1 shot