James Neal’s goal late in the first overtime gave the Springfield Thunderbirds a 3-2 win in Game 5 of the AHL Eastern Conference Finals against Laval Rocket at Bell Place on Saturday night.
The loss now brings the Laval Rocket to the brink of elimination as the series moves to Springfield for Game 6 on Monday night.
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard had both goals for The Rocket and Cayden Primeau made 44 saves, but it wasn’t enough as Laval turned 2-0 in their own win a day after going 2-0 down to defeat.
After dominating the offensive numbers for most of the night, Springfield finally scored the winner with just 1:25 left in the game’s first overtime. Matthew Peca slotted the puck to Neal, where his shot hit Primeau.
Despite falling behind in overtime 11-6 and 47-27 overall, Laval had several chances of his own to end the game but failed to capitalize. Jean-Sébastien Dea had a breakaway but was stopped by Charlie Lindgren, who took the lead against Joel Hofer, who played the night before. Lindgren wasn’t tested as often as Primeau, but made several big saves during the game.
Just before Dea’s breakaway, Devante Smith-Pelly had a chance for a two-for-one. Both chances paled in comparison to Danick Martel’s. About halfway through the period, there was a three-on-two low at the end of Springfield. Corey Schueneman had the puck in the slot and faked a shot that pulled the defense towards him. Surprising everyone, he fed Martel, who had a wide-open net, but the Rocket forward fanned out on the shot.
Primeau also had to be very solid in overtime, making several saves, notably against Klim Kostin and Nathan Todd.
Dakota Joshua was the one who forced overtime with just 4:24 remaining in the third period. His shot ricocheted off Tobie Paquette-Bisson and floated in the air, and Primeau failed to adjust in time and ended up in the net.
It was a lucky jump, but it’s hard to say it wasn’t deserved as Springfield controlled the puck for most of the third period as they pushed for the equalizer. Their cycle play continued to be strong, and Laval’s counterattack failed to generate enough sustained offense to keep the Thunderbirds at bay.
The game got off to a shaky start for Laval, and it proved an omen when Alex Belzile was called up for a trip into the defending zone at 1:26. It was the first of seven power plays Springfield had that night. The Rocket penalty stood high throughout the game, remaining a perfect 25/25 on the series, but the effort required from the penalty takers sapped much-needed energy in the second half of a tackle. The lack of energy was evident as the game progressed, as the Rocket were content with simply clearing the zone for most of the latter parts of the game.
While Belzile’s penalty was delayed, Springfield controlled the puck for so long that officials forgot it was a delayed penalty and called it dead to too many men on the ice. The call was eventually corrected.
It was prescient, however, when 8:23 went into play Springfield was rightfully called out for too many players. Laval would not score on that occasion, but after a Nikita Alexandrov penalty, Harvey-Pinard tapped a Sami Niku shot into the high slot to give Rocket a 1-0 lead. It was his fourth straight game by a goal.
The liveliness that was plentiful during and after Game 4 on Friday night returned in Game 5. Alexandrov’s sharp call was because he slashed Primeau’s glove after making a save. Joshua once again found his way to Primeau, but this time Belzile responded. Both players had penalties, but Belzile received an extra two minutes for the rough play.
In the second period, both teams had early power play opportunities but were unable to capitalize on them. At 8:55 in the second third, the Rocket got its own lucky shot. Harvey-Pinard had the puck on the side of the net and turned and shot it towards the net. It bounced off Springfield defenseman Brady Lyle and past Lindgren into the net.
It was Harvey-Pinard’s fifth straight goal and his third straight goal came from Friday’s overtime winner.
The momentum this goal created was short-lived as the Rocket scooped another penalty less than a minute after going 2-0 up.
With 3:57 minutes remaining, Neal found Nathan Todd alone in the slot and his one-timer beat Primeau via his blocker. The goal cut the lead to 2-1 and gave the Thunderbirds some momentum after controlling the flow of play.
If Primeau hadn’t parried Mackenzie MacEachern and Kostin in the closing minutes of the period, Laval would not have made it into the second break with a lead at all.
The Rocket now have a day off as they travel to Springfield before attempting to avoid elimination in Game 6 on Monday. If they win, they will play Game 7 on Wednesday. This will be their second elimination game in the playoffs. Their previous was the winner-take-all game 5 against the Syracuse Crunch, which they also had to win away.
Laval had several lineup changes from Game 4 Friday night. Nate Schnarr couldn’t play, and Gianni Fairbrother was also scratched as the Rocket dropped to 12 forwards and six defenders. Kevin Roy and Jean-Christophe Beaudin joined the lineup.