The Abbotsford Canucks celebrate a 3-1 win over the Laval Rocket on Sunday (April 3). That win clinched a playoff berth for the team. (Abbotsford Canucks photo)

The Abbotsford Canucks celebrate a 3-1 win over the Laval Rocket on Sunday (April 3). That win clinched a playoff berth for the team. (Abbotsford Canucks photo)

ABBOTSFORD CANUCKS

Abbotsford Canucks sweep Laval, clinch playoff berth

Canucks score two big wins at home ice in front of two strong crowds, punch postseason ticket

A good weekend became great for the Abbotsford Canucks, as the team swept the Laval Rocket and as a result they have now qualified for the American Hockey League playoffs.

The team also enjoyed its largest crowd ever on Saturday (April 2) with a reported attendance of 6,017. Sunday (April 3) was also a strong number, as a reported 5,036 took in the team’s second win in two days.

Abbotsford took down the Rocket 3-1 on Sunday and it featured one of the best performances this season from goalie Michael DiPietro.

The Vancouver Canucks third round pick made 32 saves to earn his 10th win this season and was named the game’s second star.

Abbotsford’s red hot power play opened the scoring at 15:31 of the first period when Sheldon Rempal scored his 28th and that goal stood until the third when Laval’s Xavier Ouellet tied the game up at 9:41. Jack Rathbone scored the eventual game winner with a laser beam of a shot at 15:33 and John Stevens added an empty net goal at 19:08 to seal the deal.

Rathbone continues his strong play after returning from injury and both he and Stevens recorded two point nights. The defenceman has 33 points in 30 games for Abbotsford this season.

Laval out shot the Canucks 33-24 and Rempal had a team high four shots.

Rathbone said clinching a playoff spot is good accomplishment for the team.

“It’s huge,” he said. “That’s been our goal ever since we started here. I know [head coach Trent Cull] was happy. We kind of knew in the back of our heads what was on the line tonight and it was fun to get it done.”

Cull said he’s excited to see his team qualify, but that there still is a lot of work to do this month.

“It’s not easy getting into the playoffs,” he said. “I’m ecstatic that we gave ourselves a chance to play in the post-season. I think, obviously, we would like to pick up more points along the way so that maybe we can play in front of this home crowd a little bit more and have some home ice. You saw the atmosphere in the building, especially in the last four games. We thrive off it. It’s fun playing in front of fans and definitely something we don’t take for granted.”

The Canucks thrived off the large crowd on Saturday, disposing of the Rocket 6-1.

Forward Brandon Cutler energized the crowd early and opened the scoring at 4:56 of the first. Carson Focht then benefitted after an excellent individual effort by Madison Bowey to make it 2-0 at 16:00. Abbotsford’s power play continued its strong play and Stevens added a goal with the man advantage with one second left on the clock.

It got so bad for Laval that someone threw a Montreal Canadiens jersey onto the ice after that third goal. The first period was one of the biggest shot outputs for Abbotsford this season, as they fired 19 shots on goal.

Rempal scored the lone goal of the second period to make it 4-0 Abbotsford and newly signed Matt Alfaro scored his first as a Canuck at 1:18 of the third. Stevens scored his second of the game after getting a breakaway with the Canucks down two men.

Laval spoiled the traditional bagel celebration for the Canucks, as they scored with just eight seconds left. Head coach Trent Cull buys the entire team bagels when they achieve a shutout, but the carbs will have to wait for another time.

Canucks goalie Spencer Martin was solid, especially in the third period when the Rocket turned on the intensity. Martin made 34 saves to collect his 17th win. The team in front of him also limited chances the first two periods.

Abbotsford’s record now sits at 32-21-5-1 on the season and they are in fifth place in the Pacific Division. The team next welcomes the San Diego Gulls to the Abbotsford Centre for games on Friday (April 8) and Saturday (April 9).

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