CLEVELAND (February 28, 2019) – The Laval Rocket continued their hunt for a playoff spot with a duel against the Monsters Thursday night in Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena. In the tight game between the rivals, the Rocket players showed a lot of character and resiliency, coming from behind multiple times to finally overtake the Monsters with a 5-4 victory. Hayden Verbeek and Lukas Vejdemo each had two goals in the win.
The home team quickly took a two-goal lead over the Rocket due to two quick goals at the start of the game. Defenseman Ryan Collins got his team on the board by taking a rebound in the slot and Kole Sherwood doubled the lead of his team when he took goaltender Charlie Lindgren by surprise only 38 seconds later. The Rocket were then given two opportunities on the powerplay but despite a quality scoring chances, Joël Bouchard’s players were unable to get a goal against Cleveland netminder Jean-François Bérubé. After the first 20 minutes of play, Cleveland had a 9-7 shot advantage.
The Rocket responded well in the second period, which had no less than five goals scored throughout. In the first few minutes, when both teams had a player in the penalty box, Vejdemo took advantage of a Cleveland mistake in the neutral zone to head on a breakaway against Bérubé before beating him with an excellent deke. The two northern division rivals who are neck-and-neck in the standings not only offered a scoring show in the period but also a physical one, with Cale Fleury and David Sklenicka notably making their presence known by throwing their bodies around for the Rocket. Shortly after Vejdemo’s ninth of the season, the Monsters reclaimed their two-goal lead thanks to a goal from Paul Bittner. Michael McNiven then came in the game in relief of Lindgren and shortly after the change in net, the Rocket’s fourth line lit the lamp. An attack lead by newcomer Joe Cox as well as Michael Pezzetta allowed Verbeek to enter the Monsters’ defensive zone and score a goal to take some of their momentum away. The second period was far from over, however. Tommy Cross netted the fourth goal for the Monsters during a brief period of four-on-four and when there was just one second left on the clock, Verbeek got on the board with his second of the game thanks to passes from Alex Kile and David Sklenicka.
The Rocket increased the pressure in the third in order to tie the game, but Bérubé stood out on two occasions to protect his team’s lead. Cox thought he had scored the equalizer but Bérubé robbed him with his pad, taking away what looked like a guaranteed goal. The netminder proceeded to take another goal away from the Rocket moments later, this time from Verbeek.
Despite this, the Rocket never gave up and the efforts of the Laval players eventually paid off. Halfway through the period, Vejdemo netted his second of the game to bring the two teams back to square one and when there was less than five minutes remaining in the game, Jake Evans gave his team the victory with a perfect shot from the slot on the powerplay after a good play from his teammate Alex Belzile.
“We never gave up,” explained Bouchard after the game. “We were losing 4-2 and we played really well, to be honest with you. We had great scoring chances, but every little mistake seemed to end up in the back of the net. I think in the third period we were the best team on the ice, you could see all of the effort the guys have been putting in, and the ways the guys have been practicing. It paid off tonight.”
LAV: Vejdemo | Verbeek (Pezzetta) | Verbeek (Kile, Sklenicka) | Vejdemo (Alzner, Alain) | Evans (Belzile, Pezzetta)
CLE: Collins (Dalpe, Bittner) | Sherwood (Letestu) | Bittner (Scott) | Cross (Stenlund, Simpson)
Goaltenders: LAV: Lindgren (7/10), McNiven (13/14) | CLE: Bérubé (21/26)
Rocket Powerplay: 1/5 | Rocket Penalty Kill: 3/3
Three Stars: 1. Jake Evans – LAV | 2. Lukas Vejdemo – LAV | 3. Hayden Verbeek – LAV