SYRACUSE, N.Y. — The North Division Semifinal series between the Syracuse Crunch and Laval Rocket was decided in overtime on Tuesday night.
The series to that point was exciting, unpredictable, and intense. The best-of-five series needed all five tilts to reach a decision about which team advanced to the North Division Final. Tuesday was Game 5, do-or-die, win-or-go-home — both teams’ seasons were on the line, and they had everything to lose. The “put up or shut up” game was just as thrilling and dramatic as the series has been and needed an extra period of equally thrilling and dramatic sudden death hockey to name a winner.
The rivalry series between the Crunch and Laval headed back to Syracuse for its conclusion. Max Lagace was back in the net after leaving Game 4 with an injury. Peter Abbandonato — one of the leading point scorers for the Rocket in the season series against the Crunch — returned to the lineup for the visitors. The Crunch opened the game with the early dominance that defined their play through the first four games of the series. The Rocket matched their pace and held onto the little footing they carved out slowly. Laval took a pretty big blow early on — P.C. Labrie laid a heavy hit on Danick Martel, who skated off the ice and down the tunnel in obvious discomfort. Martel is a big player in the Rocket’s success, and losing him would have dealt a major blow to their forward corps.
The Crunch used their signature physicality against the Rocket and established control of the period. They turned their efforts away from setting the tone and set their sights on solving Cayden Primeau. The Rocket defense tightened up the ice in front of Primeau’s crease and, as the Crunch increased the pressure, matched their energy to shut down their chances. The momentum leveled out, but control of the play remained firmly in the hands of the home team. That changed on the Rocket’s first shot at the power play.
Fourteen-and-a-half minutes in, Brandon Gignac broke into the Crunch zone, and to prevent him from getting a good look at Lagace, Ryan Jones conceded a high-sticking penalty. The Rocket power play wasn’t the special team that made the most of the man-advantage. A minute in, Anthony Richard forced a turnover in the neutral zone and opened the scoring with a short-handed goal he lasered past Primeau.
A shorthanded goal from Anthony Richard puts the @SyracuseCrunch up by 1 in #SYRvsLAV. pic.twitter.com/44w2yhDa8E
— American Hockey League (@TheAHL) May 18, 2022
The opening frame flew by, and the Crunch had both a lead and total control of the game as they headed down the tunnel for the first intermission.
The second picked up right where the first left off: full-bore, pedal to the medal, leave it all on the ice hockey. Martel was back on the ice, disrupting and agitating the Crunch. Syracuse responded with more physicality, some back-and-forth play, and more pressure in the offensive zone. At the 7:16 mark, Jones extended the Crunch’s lead to 2-0 with a redirection on a shot that Primeau initially stopped but couldn’t control. Lagace had a solid defense in front of him as the Rocket tried to grapple inertia away from their opponents. Thus far, the ice was firmly tilted in favor of the Crunch; the Rocket pushed back against that and put in strong work to carve out a presence in the game.
Their work paid off halfway through the period. Frank Hora sent the Rocket back to the power play for tripping Gignac. Laval wasn’t as keen to let the shorthanded team capitalize on their mistakes this time. The Rocket set up in the offensive zone, put in a lot of hard work to move the puck and the penalty killers around, and keep control of the play. Alex Belzile broke the ice for the visiting team and put them on the board. That goal re-energized the Rocket, and they picked up steam. They went from just skating with and holding off the Crunch to forcing turnovers, maintaining possession, and finally settling into making plays that resulted in strong chances.
Et voici une autre angle !
Here's another angle!#GoRocket https://t.co/gcXMVh2IM1 pic.twitter.com/Q76vbXZKoU
— x – Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) May 18, 2022
The Rocket gained precious ground on the shot clock and held off the onslaught of the surging Crunch with pushback and pressure of their own. Laval found its stride, and Syracuse continued to apply pressure to knock them back off it. What they got was five minutes of back-and-forth, chippy hockey where both teams were buzzing — but buzzing right into one another.
The Crunch still led the Rocket at the second intermission, but their chokehold on the game loosened — the third period needed to be big from both sides.
Faced with two entirely different objectives, both teams came out for the third ready to battle it out. The Crunch needed to maintain pressure and hold off the building confidence of the Rocket. The Rocket needed to find an equalizer and keep the game swinging in their direction. They set out to achieve those ends by keeping the energy and pace high. The first two periods flew by, and the third was no different.
There were very few whistles all game — goalies kept play alive whenever possible, penalties were few and far between, and the only time play stopped for anything other than a save was a smattering of icings and offsides.
Just past the halfway point, the first significant event of the period transpired: coincidental minors for Hora and Abbandonato for roughing.
Two minutes of 4-on-4 play didn’t interrupt the pace and intensity of the game. The best chance in that stretch was from the Crunch, but Primeau handled it with a massive reactionary save.
PRIMEAU 😱#GoRocket pic.twitter.com/cdf2e7mOGJ
— x – Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) May 18, 2022
Both teams settled back into their high-octane play to round out the game. The Rocket battened down the hatches and applied something they only hinted at before the 4-on-4: urgency. The Rocket ratcheted down on the offensive pressure with five minutes left in regulation. With roughly a minute and a half to go, Primeau came off in favor of an extra attacker. It took them a couple of tries — and some icing on Syracuse’s part — but the Rocket did what they set out to do. Cédric Paquette found the back of the net and closed the lead. All they had to do was hold the Crunch off for the last 30 seconds of the game.
Time ticked down without much ceremony and sent this no-holds-barred game into overtime — the first overtime period of the series.
In the third period, the Rocket pulled the momentum away from the Crunch and came out with that control to start the bonus frame. The Crunch found their footing early into overtime and settled the game’s pace back down to a familiar back-and-forth. Syracuse got the first good look in extra time when Primeau left the net wide open; Rafaël Harvey-Pinard did his best to impersonate a goalie and kept the game going. The Crunch got their only power play of the game 30 seconds shy of the five-minute mark — Martel sat for two on a holding call.
Despite sustained zone time and quality chances launched on-net, the Rocket killed off the penalty and returned to even strength with plenty of time left in sudden death. That penalty kill was all they needed to kickstart their engines. The Rocket were all over the Crunch in the defensive zone, clearing the puck out of danger and turning around for a strong forecheck on the other end of the ice. The Crunch responded in kind, and play shuffled back and forth between the neutral zone for another five minutes. Laval finally figured a way around the Syracuse defense and camped out in front of Lagace. They disrupted clearing attempts, worked backcheckers off the puck, and protected their possession. Tobie Paquette-Bisson held the puck in at the blue line and passed it off to Martel, who shot it at the net. Gabriel Bourque was there to pick up the rebound and snuck it over Lagace’s left shoulder as he fell to the ice.
Bourque called game, and the Rocket secured the first playoff series win in franchise history in overtime in Game 5 of the semifinal round.
Best feeling!#GoRocket pic.twitter.com/BjD0DJn2Hh
— x – Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) May 18, 2022
SO LONG, FAREWELL, AMEN
This was not an easy win for the Rocket. The Crunch were a great matchup, and the two teams battled it out for every win. They were evenly matched — even the 3-0 shutout in Game 4 was tightly contested. Every game was tighter than the scoresheets suggest.
The Rocket special teams made the difference in this series, but the true stars were the men between the pipes at both ends. Lagace and Primeau were the best players on their teams throughout the series. They kept their teams in the game, committed grand larceny on their opponents’ best players, and picked up the slack when the defense in front of them made critical errors. Hugo Alnefelt and Kevin Poulin made appearances in one game each for their respective teams, but even then, they played outstanding in their creases.
Five games of pure, unadulterated playoff hockey between bitter rivals in the regular season is more than any Crunch or Rocket fan could have asked for. The Crunch carried their momentum from the end of the regular season into the postseason and finally earned a win at Place Bell this season, the Rocket built new traditions and hit a lot of major milestones on their way to the North Division Final, and a vibrant, exciting rivalry was solidified in a tightly contested, physical, and hard-fought series. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what the season series between Syracuse and Laval looks like next season. I’d wager it’ll be even more exciting than this year.
What a series. 🤝
It was a battle, @RocketLaval. Good luck the rest of the way. pic.twitter.com/I6L3VLtRUJ
— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) May 18, 2022
ON THE HORIZON
The Rocket await the conclusion of the semifinal series between the Utica Comets and the Rochester Americans on Thursday, May 19. Tune in to AHLTV at 7:00 pm EDT for Game 5 to find out who the Rocket face off against in the third round.
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