Rocket ride two power-play goals to push Crunch to the brink

Thursday night’s 4-1 win gives Laval a 2-1 edge in the best-of-five North Division semifinal, with Game 4 at Place Bell Saturday afternoon.

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The Laval Rocket is one victory away from winning its first Calder Cup playoff series after beating the Syracuse Crunch 4-1 Thursday night at Place Bell.

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The win gave the Rocket a 2-1 edge in the best-of-five North Division semifinal and Laval can clinch the series with a victory in Game 4 at Place Bell Saturday at 3 pm If Game 5 is necessary, it will be played Tuesday night in Syracuse.

A power-play goal by veteran Cedric Paquette at 8:49 of the third period snapped a 1-1 tie and served as a measure of redemption for Paquette, who cost the Rocket a goal two minutes earlier.

Laval thought it had the go-ahead goal at 6:46 of the third period when captain Xavier Ouellet scored on a blast from the point, but Paquette made contact with goaltender Max Lagacé and the goal was waved off immediately.

Goaltender Cayden Primeau ran his playoff record to 2-0 with his second consecutive win after backing up Kevin Poulin in Game 1. Primeau wasn’t as busy as he was in Game 2 when he made 37 saves in a 3-2 win. He faced only 10 shots in the first two periods, but there was more pressure on him in the third as Syracuse pressed for the tie before Jean-Sébastien Dea and Louie Belpedio put the game out of reach with empty-net goals

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The Rocket took advantage on a high-sticking penalty to Gabriel Fortier to take a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by Danick Martel at 2:43. Martel was deep in the zone on the right side when he beat Lagacé with a one-timer from a sharp angle.

Martel was the beneficiary of a nifty cross-ice pass from defenseman Sami Niku, who will be looking for a new contract this summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. He’s unlikely to find a spot in what is becoming a crowded battle for places on the Canadiens’ defense corps next season, but he would be a good pickup for a team looking for an offensive spark for its power play. Niku had six assists in 13 games with Montreal and has four assists in this series.

The Rocket had three other power plays in a chippy first period, but failed to get a shot on goal on two of them. Too often, they tried to make the perfect pass through traffic instead of getting pucks on the net.

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The Crunch tied the score with a quick turnaround early in the second period. Lagacé stopped Paquette on an odd-man rush and the Rocket was caught flat-footed when Darren Raddysh took advantage of a long rebound and found Remi Elie with a stretch pass. Elie beat Primeau with a slap shot from the top of the left faceoff circle.

Laval went 2-for-7 on the power play with nine shots on goal. The Laval penalty-killers had a perfect night as they killed two penalties, allowing five shots on goal.

The Rocket attracted a near-sellout crowd and spectators donned the free T-shirts given out to create a whiteout effect.

The winner of this series will play the winner of the Rochester-Utica semifinal in the North Division final. Utica won the opening game 6-3 Tuesday and the teams won’t meet again until Saturday in Utica. Game 3 is scheduled for Rochester on Sunday.

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