After a disappointing overtime loss on Saturday, Laval looked to get back into the win column on Sunday in Springfield. They were able to do just that as their offence came to life to help them skate away with a 4-2 victory to tie the series.
Head coach Jean-Francois Houle had to make one lineup change for this one with Cedric Paquette being listed as day-to-day with a lower-body injury. No, he didn’t put in one of the youngsters. Instead, he opted for some reliability with Jean-Christophe Beaudin joining the fourth line while shaking up all four units. The team lined up as follows:
Harvey-Pinard – Gignac – Ylonen
Martel – Dea – Belzile
Bourque – Abbandonato – Teasdale
Condotta – Schnarr – Beaudin
Ouellet – Belpedio
Schueneman – Paquette-Bisson
Niku – Dello
Laval had a good opportunity to score in the opening minute when Calle Rosen turned the puck over behind Springfield’s net. Charlie Lindgren (who got the start in place of Joel Hofer) tried to poke it away but it went straight to Alex Belzile who was open in the slot but Lindgren was able to get over to make the stop.
Not even two minutes after that, there was a scary moment when Klim Kostin dove to block a wrister from Jesse Ylonen. He succeeded but caught the puck in the face. However, he was able to return later in the game.
Three minutes later, Laval started a line change with Lucas Condotta being the lone fourth liner on the ice. He spun and got a pass across to Ylonen at the blueline and the Finn pushed it ahead to Brandon Gignac who was able to sneak it past Lindgren to open up the scoring.
Just past the midway mark, Danick Martel and Will Bitten went off for offsetting minors to create a four-on-four stretch. Matthew Peca got in behind Laval’s defence on a short breakaway but missed. That was costly for the Thunderbirds as Sami Niku fed Ylonen who skated into the offensive zone and let a weak wrister from the faceoff dot go that hit Lindgren’s glove and bounced into the net to double the lead for the Rocket.
With a little over five minutes left, Bitten fed a pass behind Laval’s net to MacKenzie MacEachern. With no real opening to pass to, he tried to step out front but Jean-Sebastien Dea was in the way. However, he managed to squeak a seeing-eye shot between Primeau’s pad and the post from the side to get the Thunderbirds on the board.
A minute later, Dakota Joshua caught Gabriel Bourque with a blindside hit. He stayed in the game briefly but eventually left with an upper-body injury. That set the tone for a particularly physical final few minutes but the score remained 2-1 when the buzzer sounded. The shots were ten apiece in the opening frame.
The Rocket had their first chance with the man advantage just nine seconds into the second when Brady Lyle was called for a high stick on Rafael Harvey-Pinard. The second unit had some pressure but couldn’t score.
Less than a minute after the advantage, however, they were able to restore the two-goal lead. Peter Abbandonato fed a pass behind the net to Danick Martel who turned to drive it to the front. Lindgren guarded against the wraparound, pulling him out of position ever so slightly and Martel threaded a perfect pass to Belzile in stride who tapped it into the open net.
Two minutes later, Tyler Tucker’s pass for Drew Callin on a two-on-one didn’t connect but Condotta was called for interference on the play. Fortunately for Laval, they were able to keep the Thunderbirds largely to the outside and killed off the penalty; Springfield’s best chance came seconds after the penalty ended.
Laval went back to the power play moments later when Joshua was called for a high stick on Corey Schueneman. However, they didn’t get much going on the man advantage. Joshua got out of the box and promptly went back in after getting called for tripping but the power play once again couldn’t get anything accomplished.
Lindgren made a big glove stop on a breakaway from Condotta with just under four minutes left in the period, keeping their deficit at two. But Laval kept pressing and they were able to get the key insurance marker when Harvey-Pinard and Ylonen worked a perfect give and go; Harvey-Pinard tapped home the perfect return feed to make it 4-1.
Off the ensuing faceoff, Martel was called for a high stick on Hugh McGing, giving Springfield a prime chance to get that one back before the intermission. They had some early pressure but weren’t able to get it back, allowing the Rocket to carry a comfortable three-goal lead into the third. The shots were 13-11 for the visitors in the middle stanza.
Laval came out for the third period feeling quite comfortable with the lead and it showed as they were on their heels right away.
Primeau made a mistake just past the two-minute mark. After stopping the puck for his defence, he pushed it right to McGing. He looked to wrap it around and while Primeau slid across to stop that, McGing slid a pass across to Kostin who had a wide-open net and made no mistake to make it 4-2. The Thunderbirds continued to press after that but Primeau stood tall.
Louie Belpedio went off for slashing at the midway mark of the period but it was Laval that had the best chance shorthanded. Lindgren doesn’t handle the puck as well as Hofer does and it showed when he tried to pass it ahead and instead hit Harvey-Pinard but the winger’s shot at the empty net (aside from two defenders in the way) missed. Nathan Todd had a good chance late in the advantage but that was as close as Springfield got.
Joel Teasdale had a weak dribbler that went on the net on a two-on-one just as the penalty ended. I mention that as it was only their second shot of the period twelve minutes in. Martel then was called for roughing off the draw, sending the Thunderbirds back to the power play. They had some pressure but Laval’s penalty kill stood tall once again.
Springfield pulled Lindgren with a little more than two and a half minutes left but Laval was content to keep throwing it down the ice to kill the clock. They did just that and despite being outshot 14-3 for the period, they did enough to hold on for the win to get the key split while handing the Thunderbirds their first loss of the playoffs.
HW Rocket 3 Stars
1st Star: Jesse Ylonen – His goal wasn’t anything special (Lindgren should have had it) but he made two nice passes that led to the goals from Gignac and Harvey-Pinard. Ylonen has largely been quiet in the playoffs and while he didn’t stand out a ton in this one even, it was one of his better efforts and it was certainly a productive one.
Stats: 1 goal, 2 assists, +1 rating, 1 shot
2nd Star: Cayden Primeau – His mistake on the second goal wasn’t great but he certainly bounced back from it well, holding Springfield at bay the rest of the way. He has now allowed two or fewer goals in five of his last six starts which is quite impressive and gives Laval a chance to win every night. His play continues to impress after an up and down regular season.
Stats: 33 saves on 35 shots, 2.00 GAA, .943 SV%
3rd Star: Alex Belzile – He didn’t look out of place on the new-look second line and showed nice chemistry with Martel to lead to the eventual game-winner. Belzile was also an important part of Laval’s penalty kill that was a perfect 4/4 in this one against a Springfield team that came into this series with a success rate just below 38%.
Stats: 1 goal, +1 rating, 4 shots
Honourable Mention: Lucas Condotta – I could easily give this to Rafael Harvey-Pinard who had a much better game but I want to highlight Condotta who made a few subtle key plays including the pass that helped set up Gignac’s goal. He’s not seeing a lot of ice time but he brings some much-needed physicality to the lineup and he has come a long way already since making his debut once his college season ended. Good to see.
Stats: 1 assist, +1 rating, 1 shot, 2 PIMS