The Laval Rocket fired up the engines at just the right time in the deciding game of the American Hockey League (AHL) North Division semi-final on Tuesday, and their players hope that this comeback will be the starting point for a streak taking them very far in the playoffs.
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Head coach Jean-François Houle's squad were in the cables against the Syracuse Crunch, who had taken a 2-0 lead in the second period. However, Alex Belzile's goal closed the gap and, with less than 40 seconds left in regulation time, Cédric Paquette tied the game. Gabriel Bourque took care of the rest of the story, beating goaltender Maxime Lagacé in overtime to give the Rocket a 3-2 win and a third-round ticket.
It remains to be seen if he will be able to use this momentum in his confrontation against the Utica Comets or the Rochester Americans; these two teams will play the fifth and final game of their series on Thursday. Judging by the confidence and calm within the Laval team, which was lagging behind in a one-night duel, that shouldn't be a problem.
“It represents big emotions. But I liked how we reacted in the third period. We made several pushes to try to score the equalizing goal. [...] During the matches, there are many ups and downs. All sorts of things are happening, but our plan remains to bring as many pucks as possible towards the opposing net," commented Houle in the post-game conference, claiming not to have had to give great motivational speeches during intermissions.
“Guys know where we are. We have many veterans in this locker room who can do that. It was just about being ready and giving our best. [...] We started to play fast, as we should usually do. This is the type of team we want to be,” he continued.
come back strong
Bourque's winning goal is a bit of a symbol of the Rocket's success. The striker has come a long way this season, he who remained inactive in 2020-2021, for lack of having signed a contract with an organization. Having amassed 28 points in 67 games with Laval during the regular season, he was shut out in the first four games against Syracuse before hitting the target.
“He deserves it, he plays very well for us. Maybe he would like to get more production, but he is a fighter who does well every night and this time he was rewarded with a big goal,” praised defender Xavier Ouellet.
"I'm happy for him. Last year, he didn't play hockey and this year, it took a long time to get on board. He is a very good leader appreciated by all and when things are going badly, he is one of those who speak up,” added Houle.
The Rocket will enter the Division Finals on Sunday. He will play at home if the Americans join him in the third round. Otherwise, he will end up in Utica.