Anthony Richard gave a slight smile before saying, “I played him last year and I’m happy to be on that side of the bench. »

He had just been asked about Cayden Primeau, who will be the starting goaltender for the Rocket’s first playoff game on Wednesday night at Place Bell for the visit of the Utica Comets.

Last year, Kevin Poulin was chosen over Primeau for the team’s first playoff game against the Syracuse Crunch. The Laval troupe had been beaten, then the young hopeful had entered the scene for the second game. The Rocket, backed by an absolutely smoldering Primeau, had come from behind to win in five games and advance to the next round.

“It gets frustrating, when you have a goalkeeper making the saves and you’re not able to score a big goal. Last year, that’s what failed us against Laval. Cayden, game after game, was making the big saves,” Richard recalled late Monday afternoon – the Rocket’s practice was pushed back due to a rink issue.

“I’m extremely happy to have him on my side [this year]. You see him really ready before every game. I feel like high pressure games like that bring out the best in him due to him being so prepared and cerebral before games. »

It is true that Primeau has made a habit of getting up at critical moments.

Last year, in 14 playoff games, he maintained a 93.6% save rate. This season, he has had “ups and downs”, he himself admitted on Monday, but he is one of the reasons behind the Rocket’s qualification in extremis in the playoffs. Since March 26, the goaltender has recorded 6 wins in 7 starts and maintained a save rate of .934.

“It’s something that makes me proud,” admitted the principal. You want to find yourself in these kinds of situations and be calm. It’s the fun. [In the playoffs] you want to feed on the confidence of the team and the team wants to feed on the confidence of its goalkeeper. »

His head coach Jean-François Houle did not go through all the stops to explain his choice: “Everyone is confident with Primeau. He did very well. If it hadn’t been for him… [We had] three straight 40-shot games, which doesn’t happen often for us. He was very solid. »

The Rocket played their last three games of the season at home. The bleachers were full, the crowd was electric, every point was crucial… just like in the playoffs.

“The guys were excited. It was the nervousness of playoff games. For us, Wednesday is just a continuation of the last two weeks and I think it’s going to be to our advantage,” Richard said.

The 26-year-old forward is coming off the best offensive season of his career with 67 points in 60 games. And like Primeau, he’s used to doing well in the playoffs.

He himself reminded us that he finished first in scoring for his team in his last two spring tournament appearances, in 2019 with the Milwaukee Admirals and in 2022 with the Crunch.

“It’s to continue my history as a guy who is able to score important goals, to play in games that have a lot of importance and that bring a lot of pressure. »

The Rocket is well endowed when it comes to winning players. Richard and Olivier Galipeau won the President’s Cup with the Val-d’Or Foreurs, as did Joël Teasdale and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. “I think it’s going to help us collectively,” Richard said.

The Rocket’s roster has changed a number of times throughout the season, whether due to recalls or injuries. Naturally, the team chemistry was affected at times. Again, “ups and downs,” Houle said, this time around. But for three weeks, everyone’s effort has allowed the group to become one again.

“When you win, it’s always easier,” noted Richard. Everyone produces, everyone plays well. There is no bad ego in the locker room. At the start of the year it was a bit more difficult for everyone, it was getting mentally heavy, but lately I think we’re really a united team and I feel like we’re really going to be dangerous in the playoffs if it continues to stick like in the past few weeks. »

After Game 1 in Laval, the Rocket will head to Utica for Game 2 on Friday. The third duel, if necessary, will be played on Saturday, also in Utica.

As Primeau aptly put it: the Rocket has “a job to finish.” The one started last year.

With a “lower body” injury, forward Mitchell Stephens will definitely miss the first round of the playoffs, and the second if the team gets there. The 26-year-old Ontarian has been an important offensive piece for the Rocket down the stretch of the campaign; he has scored at least one point in each of his last eight games. A loss that “hurts,” admitted Cayden Primeau.

Players like Xavier Simoneau, Danick Martel and Brandon Gignac could be called up to play center. Jean-François Houle recalled that his team used to adjust to injuries. “The next one that comes into the lineup is going to have to take more ice time. We’ve done it all year. Nothing changes and we don’t panic about it. »