LAVAL, QC — The Laval Rocket came up victorious this weekend with back-to-back wins against the Lehigh Valley Phantoms and the Wilkes-Barre/ Scranton Penguins. The Rocket are looking to make their first Calder Cup Playoffs appearance in franchise history; these wins are critical to ensuring their season extends past April.
The Rocket went into the weekend on the back of a tightly contested shootout loss to the Belleville Senators. They sat number two in the North Division at puck drop on Friday night and were looking to hold on to that position and gain some ground in the race to qualify for the postseason. Kevin Poulin and Cayden Primeau split custody of the crease in the weekend back-to-back.
The Lehigh Valley Phantoms were in town Friday night. The Rocket visited the Phantoms at home earlier this month and dropped the contest 4-3. On home ice, they weren’t ready or willing to let that happen again this time around. Laval came out of the gates ready to play and dominated the game from the onset. They set out to dictate and control the pace of play and possession. The Phantoms pushed back and matched the Rocket in footraces but outmuscled them, using their bodies to establish some physical dominance early on. Poulin stood tall in the blue paint, and his efforts were a massive part of the Rocket’s success.
The scoring didn’t start until just after the 10-minute mark of the first period when Cedric Paquette lit the lamp for the home team. Just about seven minutes later, Garrett Wilson answered for the visitors on a power play, and the period ended back at square one — all tied up with one goal apiece. Thirty seconds into the second period, Jean-Sébastien Dea capitalized on a power play for the Rocket. Danick Martel added to the growing lead with an even-strength goal just ahead of the five-minute warning. Martel’s goal came after the Rocket had a goal overturned by the officials over some miscommunication and an early whistle. Nearly five minutes into the third, Paquette notched another goal, and just inside the last five minutes, Jean-Christophe Beaudin tallied a third insurance goal to guarantee the Rocket’s win.
— Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) March 26, 2022
The Rocket are gearing up to push for a spot in the playoffs for the first year in franchise history. Decisive wins like Friday night are a great way to ensure they get there. If they want to make it deep into the playoffs, they need to work on a few things that the Phantoms highlighted. The Rocket are usually the most physical team on the ice and pair that with speed and skill. Usually, they lack cohesive team play, and that negates all of their efforts on the physical side. Friday night, Laval let Lehigh Valley hold the upper hand on the physical game for far too long, but the absence of the trademark, bruiser style hockey that Laval plays showed a glimpse of what a cohesive, united Rocket team looks like: victorious.
Rounding out their Canadian road trip, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins rolled into town for a matinee game on Saturday. The second game of the weekend set was a stark contrast to the first game — the Rocket played a more physical game from the start and lost a lot of the cohesion and unity that made them successful. The Penguins were a way more evenly-matched team for the Rocket style-wise than the Phantoms were.
Laval once again opened up the scoring early — just before the minute-and-a-half mark — on a goal credited to Kevin Roy. That first goal was a controversial one. Penguins goalie Louis Domingue was barrelled into, and the Rocket netted the opening tally. In a world where goaltender interference is understood and consistently adjudicated, Roy’s goal wouldn’t stand. In North American professional hockey, it could go either way. This time, it was ruled in favor of the Rocket, drawing the ire of the Penguins early on. That animosity peppered the rest of the tilt.
Michael Chaput quickly evened the score out for the visitors, and they once again took a one-all draw into the intermission. The Rocket retook and then extended their lead late in the second with goals from Paquette (10:18) and Gabriel Bourque (17:54). Not willing to let the Rocket get too comfortable with a lead, Sam Poulin — who lit up Laval’s Poulin in their previous match — added a last-minute goal to cut the lead down to one. Back for the third, WBS wasted no time clawing back with another equalizer on a goal from Chris Bigras at the 07:49 mark. Primeau and the Rocket held on until the last five minutes when deadline acquisition Nate Schnarr made his presence known on the scoresheet with a goal at 15:15. Rafaël Harvey-Pinard added an empty-net insurance goal in the last minute and secured the second victory in as many nights for Laval.
— Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) March 26, 2022
The Rocket and the Penguins were both playing on the tail-ends of back-to-back sets. Thanks to that Roy goal, they started out on the wrong foot against each other. The tensions and tempers flared for the rest of the game. Saturday’s game saw the Rocket and Penguins play rare regulation 3-on-3 hockey thanks to penalties and retaliation. Both teams failed to capitalize on their power play chances and tossed discipline to the wind somewhere along the way. The Rocket played the more physical, playoff-style game they need to become more familiar with as they get closer to battling it out for a spot in the postseason, but with that came their patented disjointed, reckless play. They need to find a way to balance those things out and shore up the power play to stand a fighting chance for a deep run to the Calder Cup.
The Rocket will be back in action against the Manitoba Moose in Winnipeg on Tuesday and Wednesday. Both games’ puck drops are scheduled for 8 pm EDT.
Here’s the quick breakdown of some key stats for the Laval Rocket:
- Record: 30-21-3-1 (64 pts., 2nd in the North Division, 12th in the league)
- Points Leader: Rafaël Harvey-Pinard (38)
- Goals Leader: Jean-Sébastien Dea (18)
- Goaltending Leader: Kevin Poulin (2.32 GAA, 0.924 SV%)
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