The Laval Rocket were no strangers to adversity as they entered Game 7 against the Springfield Thunderbirds. Laval had answered the bell in impressive fashion in Game 6, winning 5-1 with a makeshift lineup due to a number of injuries sustained in the series. They again entered an elimination game missing one of their most dynamic talents, as Jesse Ylönen was out after taking a hit from behind.
In his place was Peter Abbandonato, and again J.-F. Houle opted for a seven-defencemen alignment, with Gianni Fairbrother suiting up. In net to no one’s surprise was Cayden Primeau, and opposite him was the former Rocket goalie, Charlie Lindgren.
The Thunderbirds came out with absolute intent, hemming the Rocket in their own end for most of the opening three minutes, barely allowing Laval to cross his own blue line. However, once the Rocket were able to gain control of the puck, the speed of Brandon Gignac drew a tripping call allowing the Rocket to jump onto the game’s first power play. The chances were few, but they were close for Laval as Joël Teasdale batted a puck on goal in close that Lindgren denied, before the Springfield goalie then kicked out his pad to rob Cédric Paquette on the rebound.
Springfield killed off the rest of Laval man advantage, and soon found himself on its first of the night as Gignac then went to the box. Despite the Rocket’s flawless penalty-killing performance in the series to that point, the Thunderbirds needed just eight seconds to break that streak as Matthew Peca snapped one by Primeau.
Laval managed to push back a bit from there, but Lindgren remained unbothered in net as the Thunderbirds began their suffocating cycle game once again. It looked as though they had taken a two-goal lead when Sam Anas shook off his coverage and beat Primeau, but the crossbar was less forgiving as it denied him.
When it finally looked like the Rocket were set to push back offensively after a long defensive zone shift, Xavier Ouellet was sent to the box for high-sticking to end the period. With just over a minute left on the penalty kill, the Rocket had a tough task on their hands to make sure they kept the deficit at just one goal. The special-teams unit did its job well, keeping the Thunderbirds off the board, but Springfield still held a heavy shot advantage through the opening minutes of the second period.
Primeau continued to hold back wave after wave of attack, including a picture perfect denial of James Neal on a breakaway chance. Shortly afterward, a turnover fell to Anas in the slot, He turned to fire through traffic and it was Primeau robbing him with a defiant glove save instead.
The dam did eventually break though. Will Bitten absorbed a hit along the boards, freeing up space for Dakota Joshua to swoop in and fire a shot over Primeau’s glove to make it a two-goal game.
A generous call sent Springfield back to the power play a few minutes later, and despite the best efforts of the penalty-killers, Hugh McGing was able to feed a perfect feed over to Nathan Todd. The veteran forward outwaited Rafaël Harvey-Pinard before firing it through Primeau for a 3-0 edge.
A late power play for the Rocket pushed hard, but the stubbornness of Lindgren and tired legs left Laval still looking for a goal as the game went to the second intermission.
Springfield was content to sit back and carefully defend against Laval’s attacks, and even when they came Lindgren was there to deny them with incredible saves. First was Joël Teasdale in close off a J.-S. Dea rebounded shot, and then it appeared that Danick Martel had a chance to break the shutout. As Martel fired his shot toward the open net, Lindgren sprawled across and robbed him with the glove to keep the shutout intact.
With just over six minutes left to play, and the Thunderbirds doing everything they could to run out of the clock, Primeau departed for the bench. The Springfield defense continued hold the Rocket at bay, even with the extra attacker. Laval’s offense had trouble getting pucks to the net as the clock ticked closer and closer to the final whistle.
There was no insane comeback to be had in this elimination game. As the seconds ticked away, their attack became more desperate and less polished. Eventually the Thunderbirds managed to get control of the puck in the neutral zone to put the final nail in the coffin with an empty-net goal.
Final Score: Springfield 4, Laval 0
Springfield wins series 4-3
The loss ends in an incredible playoff run for the Laval Rocket, who back in May were just 38 seconds from being eliminated by the Syracuse Crunch. After winning a Canadian Division title in the previous year and surviving an incredibly difficult North Division to make the Conference Final is a huge step forward for the Habs’ AHL affiliate.
It’s not the ending anyone wanted here, but as the cliché goes, all good things must come to an end. Thank you to everyone who followed along with the first AHL playoff run in half a decade, and here’s to next year being an even better one.