(Anthony Richard had two goals and an assist, Maxime Lagacé made 28 saves, and the Syracuse Crunch defeated the Laval Rocket 5-3 Friday at Upstate Medical University Arena.) The Crunch leads the semifinal series of the North Section 1-0. Game 2 of the best-of-five series will be presented on Saturday, still in Syracuse.
The Rocket took advantage of one of their two power-play chances, while the Crunch went 2-for-4 with an extra man in a game punctuated by several scuffles.
Alex Belzile scored twice, while Joël Teasdale also hit the target for the Rocket, which was playing the first game in its history in the playoffs. Danick Martel had two assists and Sami Niku three, while Kevin Poulin stopped 26 shots.
Cole Koepke had a goal and an assist, while Remi Elie and Gemel Smith were the other Crunch scorers.
The home team had won seven of the eight games between the two teams during the regular schedule. The Rocket had won in Syracuse at the end of the campaign, when the Crunch had given leave to several regular players.
In addition to preferring veteran Poulin to Montreal Canadiens hopeful Cayden Primeau in net, Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle decided to leave out young defender Mattias Norlinder. The latter joined the team in the last few days after completing his campaign with Frölunda FC, Sweden.
The Rocket opened the scoring after 4: 11 of play, during a power play. Belzile picked the return after a pitch from Martel.
The Crunch quickly responded, only 1:43 later. Niku went there with an errant pass to the slot and Elie beat Poulin with a one-timer.
Both goalkeepers made some great saves afterwards. Lagacé twice frustrated Jesse Ylönen, while Poulin signaled at the expense of Smith.
The Crunch took the lead with 1:17 to go in the first period, on a power play. Koepke deflected a long shot from Richard behind Poulin.
Richard returned after just 68 seconds into the second period. Poulin stopped a shot from Koepke, but the return deflected off defender Tory Dello’s leg and the puck returned to Richard in the crease. Richard took advantage of the situation to beat Poulin.
The Rocket goalkeeper made a real theft against Charles Hudon a few minutes later, when the Crunch forward was left alone at the mouth of the net.
For his part, Lagacé shone against Xavier Ouellet while the Rocket was playing outnumbered.
The Rocket cut the deficit to 3-2 with 4:41 remaining in the second period, seconds after a power play ended. Teasdale enjoyed a comeback, while defenseman Fredrik Claesson was handicapped by the loss of a skate blade.
The Crunch restored their two-goal cushion before the end of the second period, with 1:49 to go. While Martel was in the penalty box for batting Lagacé, Smith was able to shoot into an empty net after Hudon hit the post.
Belzile revived the Rocket by scoring their second goal of the game 6:28 into the third period.
Poulin shone with a spectacular save against Koepke with less than three minutes to go, giving his team one last chance to tie the game.
Teasdale and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard then missed golden chances after Poulin was replaced by an additional striker. Richard allowed the Crunch to close the books by scoring in an empty net with 22 seconds left.