Matthew Peca’s give-and-go finished with him firing a shot past Cayden Primeau 9:32 into overtime to give the Springfield Thunderbirds a 2-1 win over the Laval Rocket in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final on Saturday night.
Matthew Kessel drew the defence to him before making a cross-ice pass to Peca who made no mistake for his third goal of the playoffs. The win for Springfield moved them to 7-0 during the post-season, and was their 11th straight win going back to the regular season.
The goal came after some missed opportunities for the Rocket, who outshot Springfield 9-7 in the extra frame, and 42-39 overall. Joel Hofer and Cayden Primeau both had very solid games, and came up big when their teams needed them
The Rocket were three minutes away from the victory when Brady Lyle’s shot deflected off of Tory Dello’s leg and beat Primeau to tie the game at 1-1 and force overtime.
Springfield had a chance to win the game in regulation when Alex Belzile took a penalty with less than two minutes remaining. James Neal and Sam Anas both had chances in the final seconds of regulation, but Primeau and Xavier Ouellet stopped the opportunities.
Laval started the third period with a chance to extend their lead as Tommy Cross took a tripping penalty with a just seconds remaining in the second period. It did not go according to plan. The best scoring opportunities came on a couple of transition chances but for the shorthanded Thunderbirds.
“With the power play to start the third, if we had scored a goal, it really would have broken their legs on the other side,” said Rocket forward Danick Martel. “We’re very disappointed to not come away with the win.”
The Rocket took the lead earlier in the second period when Brandon Gignac made a beautiful lead pass to spring Danick Martel on a breakaway. He made no mistake, and beat Hofer for his seventh goal of the playoffs.
Despite the goal, Martel called the game his worst of the playoffs. The team had a slow start. After not playing for eight days, it took a while for the Rocket to get their legs under them.
The rest might come in handy as the two teams meet for Game 2 of the series around 18 hours after Game 1 ended.
“We’re able to play better, we need to play better, and we saw it tonight that despite playing an ordinary game we were in it for 57 minutes and we’re able to come away with a better result tomorrow,” Martel said.
A point of emphasis for Laval will be making the most of their opportunities offensively and making life harder for the opposing goaltender. It was the same kind of emphasis the team had early in their series against the Syracuse Crunch. Despite leading the shot count, Laval felt like they allowed the majority of the scoring chances, and it’s something they want to change heading into Sunday evening’s game.
“We played well defensively, we did what we had to do, even on the tying goal we did what we needed to do but the puck hit a leg and deflected the other way, that’s hockey,” said Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle. “We had a few chances in overtime and they went the other way and scored but I liked the way our guys worked.”
“This game could have gone either way. For us, we’re going to try and get one win on the road,” Houle said.
The Rocket went with the same lineup that won Game 3 against Rochester. With Game 2 at 5:05pm, less than 24 hours after Game 1 started, it’s possible that the team goes with some fresh legs, but coming off of eight days off, there should be plenty of rest.