LAVAL, QC — The wait is over. Playoff hockey has finally made its way to Place Bell. Thursday night and Saturday afternoon, the Rocket hosted the Syracuse Crunch in the first (and second) ever postseason action on Laval’s home ice.
The Rocket and Crunch headed back north to Québec for the third and fourth installments of their best-of-five North Division semifinal round. The Rocket were tasked with creating playoff traditions and creating an atmosphere worthy of the Montréal Canadiens organization. Every fan in attendance was greeted at their seats by a commemorative Calder Cup Playoffs t-shirt and a rally towel. Spring may have sprung, but inside one barn in a Montréal suburb, there was a whiteout warning in effect. Fans packed the stands to welcome postseason hockey to Laval, and the arena crew that has given fans incredible showmanship — amplified home ice advantage by making Place Bell an exciting and energetic backdrop to an equally exciting and energetic sport — showed out.
The Rocket and the Crunch came into the game with a series tie. The first two games of the series were physical, emotionally charged affairs. Game 3 started much the same way. Rocket fans showed out in force and were into the game from the second the puck dropped. About a minute into the game, the Crunch gave the home team their first chance in a long string of power plays that peppered the boxscore throughout the game — Danick Martel made it count. Both teams carried on, playing like the well-oiled machines from Game 2. That’s how play continued for the entirety of the game — the Rocket attacking and the Crunch defending or vice-versa, the Crunch laying the body and the Rocket doing their best not to let that get under their skin. Tensions were high from the onset of the series, and they were once again on full display.
Frank Hora put the puck over the glass and put the Crunch a man down around the six-minute mark in the first; the Rocket were unsuccessful on the ensuing power play. Four minutes late, the Crunch got their first chance at the man advantage and failed to capitalize. First-period tensions came to a head at 11:22. Remi Elie, Gabriel Fortier, and Gabriel Bourque all sat for roughing, but Laval couldn’t extend their lead on the ensuing power play. At 14:57, Charles Hudon took two for clipping to round out the opening frame’s penalty count.
The Crunch came out for the second and put the pedal to the metal. They scored the lone goal of the period around the five-minute mark — courtesy of Elie. As for penalties, there were only two — both of which came after the halfway point. Daniel Walcott took a cross-checking minor at 11:35, and Swedish rookie Mattias Norlinder sat for two on a holding call at 14:21. The discipline of the period might have been tightened down, but the animosity between the two opponents didn’t cool off. The physicality and the intensity of the game only got more noticeable after the equalizing goal. As the second came to a close, both teams clearly needed a break. They held on until the buzzer and took a one-all tie down both tunnels.
In the third, the Crunch took another early penalty. Alex Barré-Boulet sat for hooking there minutes in. Play returned to even strength, still tied. Shortly afterward, the Rocket celebrated what they thought was a goal but was waved off due to contact with goaltender Max Lagace. Fans didn’t respond well to the disallowed goal and threw a couple of beer cans onto the ice amidst the chorus of boos. P.C. Labrie took a minor for roughing that Cédric Paquette made the most of to regain the lead for the Rocket. The go-ahead goal didn’t deflate the Crunch, though. They continued to push back and frustrate the Rocket and try to re-equalize the score.
At 11:48, Laval took a bench minor for holding onto the stick of a Syracuse player that was checked into the half-wall in front of the home bench. The Crunch pushed back on the power play, but Cayden Primeau was up to the task every time. Lagace headed off to the bench for the extra attacker in the last couple of minutes. Jean-Sébastien Dea threw the puck into the empty net for a bit of insurance in the last two minutes of the game. Syracuse’s net stayed empty into the game’s final minute, and the Rocket practiced launching the puck into the net from the defensive zone. Louie Belpedio got the puck on target and behind the goal line with 20 seconds left in the game.
— x – Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) May 13, 2022
The Rocket built on the success of their last game against the Crunch, won the first ever Calder Cup Playoff game hosted at Place Bell, and took the series lead heading into Game 4.
Game 4 was the mirror opposite of Thursday’s tilt. The Crunch came out buzzing Saturday afternoon and held the Rocket off like it was their sole purpose in life. It took four minutes for either team to register a shot on goal. After that, the Crunch opened their game up and took control. Cole Koepke opened the scoring at the five-and-a-half-minute mark. As for the discipline level, it was at a much higher level than Thursday night. There were two penalties in the first, both to Syracuse. Gabriel Dumont sat for roughing halfway through the first when he pushed Alex Belzile onto the ice on top of Lagace, injuring the Crunch goalie. Hugo Alnefelt took over the crease in Lagace’s stead. The Rocket couldn’t make anything count on the power play. Late in the period, Alex Green took a tripping minor — the Rocket couldn’t solve Alnefelt on the second power play of the game, either. Between the penalties, the Crunch drove absolutely all of the play and controlled all of the momentum.
In the Second period, the Crunch battened down the hatches and ramped up the defensive game. Their defensive play in front of Alnefelt was impregnable. Brandon Gignac took the first penalty for the rocket close to nine minutes into the period, and the Crunch tightened their control over the Rocket with the momentum they gained with the man advantage. The final five minutes of the period dragged on with whistles and stoppage of play. There weren’t any goals scored in the period, but the Crunch ran away with the game anyway.
The third period was the most decisive for the Crunch and the sloppiest for the Rocket. Thanks to a roughing call on Paquette, the visitors got off to a hot start in the third a minute-and-a-half into the period. Elie notched goal number two for the Crunch and extended their lead. That was it for the penalties but not for total Crunch domination of the Rocket. It was do-or-die for Syracuse. They were facing elimination on hostile ice. They refused to go down without a fight. At the 06:24 mark, Anthony Richard scored the game’s final goal, and the Crunch responded with renewed energy. Laval couldn’t sustain any momentum and just crumbled under pressure.
— x – Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) May 14, 2022
The series will be decided with a fifth and final game in Syracuse on Tuesday, May 17, at 7:00 pm EDT.
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