Optimus Prime(au)’s Heroics Fuelling the Rocket
May 24, 2022
By Costa Rontzocos
It looks like we are witnessing Cayden Primeau’s pro Coming Out Party.
The Laval Rocket took a 2-0 series lead Monday night when they defeated the Rochester Americans 3-1 at Place Bell. Primeau was once again lights out, stopping 31 of 32 shots while looking cool, calm and collected in his net from start to finish. He now has a 5-1 record this playoff with a stingy 1.65 GAA, and his .949 save percentage is first among all AHL goaltenders who have played at least three playoff games.
Laval was the superior team in all three periods and saw contributions from every trio and pairing. Brandon Gignac, Louie Belpedio and Lucas Condotta were the three scorers for the Rocket in Game 2, and Primeau, who was named the game’s first star, did the rest.
Jean-Francois Houle made a couple of changes to his lineup. Lucas Condotta was inserted on the fourth line and played on Nate Schnarr’s wing opposite Joel Teasdale while defenceman Mattias Norlinder was sidelined with a head injury from a hit he took from Ben Holmstrom late in Game 1.
The Rocket started the game with a lot of intensity. They set the tone early with a few big hits and got the crowd going. Tory Dello received the puck at the blueline and wasted no time getting it on the net but Aaron Dell could not control the rebound and it was buried by Gignac.
Alex Belzile nearly put Laval up two goals but could not complete the great pass made by Gignac and Dell made a spectacular save. Rochester could not get much going and looked flat for the majority of the period. Their lack of structure and focus burned them when they took a penalty behind the play. Both of Laval’s powerplay units created quality scoring opportunities. Even though they did not add to their lead, they built on the positive plays and went into the second period with high levels of confidence.
The second period started the same way the first ended, with Laval in control. Even though the Americans outshot the Rocket 14-7, it was not an accurate representation of the play. The Rocket kept applying pressure and it lead to an odd-man rush where Cedric Paquette passed the puck to a trailing Belpedio who beat Dell with a perfect shot on his blocker side. Houle told his defenceman to join in on these types of rushes in order to create more offence and his players got the message.
Dell had to be spectacular again in the period on Schnarr and even though his rebound control was questionable, he was keeping Rochester in this game. The Americans finally got their first powerplay midway through the second but the Rocket doubled down defensively blocking shots and limiting chances.
Cayden Primeau was the X-Factor in the second period and made two unbelievable saves to keep his team ahead. He’s been playing at a world-class level since game 2 of the Rocket-Crunch series and has been the backbone of this defence. Rochester is having a tough time scoring on him with all their weapons. It’s not looking good for them with the way Primeau is playing in these playoffs.
Laval kept playing well defensively as they kept Rochester to the outside and limited them to low-quality shots and pressured them into turning the puck over more as the game progressed. Something that is getting clearer as the playoffs progress is teams tend to forget about hockey and turn up the nastiness if they feel their chances of coming back are fading. Rochester forward Jack Quinn took a roughing penalty after a vicious check on Belzile. Martel was not happy with Quinn as he came to his teammate’s aid and gave him an earful as both players were sent to the penalty box. It was not an isolated moment as multiple Rochester players tried to initiate scrums and looked for a way to give their team some life.
The insertion of Condotta into the lineup paid dividends with his size, strength and physical nature helping to offset Rochester’s physical play. He also netted his first AHL goal when he picked up a loose puck in the slot, made a quick feint that froze Dell and then beat him on his blocker side.
Rochester did manage to break Primeau’s shutout when Mark Jankowski tipped in a shot from Arttu Ruostolainen late in the game. Martel nearly got the three-goal lead back when he took a long shot that hit the post. It proved to be the most Rochester could muster and Laval ended up with the 3-1 win in the end.
Expect the Americans to try to be even more physical in front of the home crowd on Wednesday night, and Laval will need to remain disciplined and patient, and capitalize on power-play opportunities. One more Rocket victory and they are off to the eastern conference finals.