A look at how the Tampa Bay Lightning organizational roster is shaping up for this summer and next season.
As Syracuse Crunch captain Mike Angelidis paused, cheers could still be heard from the ice.
After beating the Syracuse Crunch 5-2 in Game 6 of the American Hockey League finals at the Onondaga County War Memorial Tuesday, each member of the Grand Rapids Griffins took their turn hoisting the Calder Cup.
"It's tough, it's really tough," Angelidis said. "You compete that long in the season. It kills you."
Despite becoming the first team in league history to win back-to-back road elimination games after going down 3-0 in the series, the end result was hard to take.
"You're just disappointed, you're upset," said Angelidis, one of almost a dozen players who won the cup last year with the Norfolk Admirals. "When we don't win the Calder Cup, it's a failure for us. We lost. There's nothing good about this. We have to learn from this, I guess. We know what it takes to win every night, we just fell a little short."
Crunch defenseman Jean-Philippe Cote described the feeling as "devastating."
"This is what we play for…It's hard," he said. "Yes, you have to keep your head up, you made it that far, but it's a disappointment."
All good things...
Grand Rapids Wins the Series 4-2
Grand Rapids Wins the Calder Cup
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 3 goals on 23 shots in a game that encapsulated the Finals for Desjardins. Brilliant at times, he allowed a goal through him on the eventual game winner by Evans that he surely wishes he had back. It will be interesting to see how Julien BriseBois retools between the pipes for next season, because you can make the argument the difference between Desjardins and Mrazek was, in large part, the difference between champion and runner-up.
SYR Panik, (9) (Taormina, Palat), 17:15
GR Callahan, (6) (Ferraro, Grant), 2:23
GR Tatar, (15) (Nyquist, Ferraro), 12:41 (PP)
SYR Sustr, (2) (Namestnikov, Devos), 5:14
GR Evans, (2) (Callahan, Sheahan), 9:54
GR Tatar, (16) (Andersson, Nyquist), 19:11 (EN/PP)
GR Andersson, (3) (Glendening), 19:54 (EN)
I think Lightning fans everywhere, even with the bitterness of this defeat, need to start by saying, "thank you" to this group of players. The team we've referred to as "SyraNo" on this site, which won a championship in Norfolk last year and almost did again this year with Syracuse has been one of the best groups of players ever to take the ice together in the AHL. A lot of these guys, like Radko Gudas who returned tonight from injury, are ticketed for the NHL next year. Others, some of the really veteran guys, may move on in the offseason. So, this group of guys will never be together again, but we should tip our hat to them for two years of sustained brilliance the likes of which we're unlikely to see again anytime soon.
As for the young prospects who will likely return to Syracuse next season, I found myself highly impressed with Vladislav Namestnikov and Andrej Sustr, both of whom got stronger as the playoffs wore on. Namestnikov is a legit threat to be an AHL All-Star next season, if not more, with his wizardry with the puck and Sustr is something rare and interesting in pro hockey. You have to put aside the fact Andrej is 6'8", because he refuses to play to type. He's not a bone crunching stay-at-homer, and there's a lot of times he looks like a forward with his ability to read the play offensively and jump into the action. His feed to Tyler Johnson in the slot in the Third Period tonight was an incredible bit of vision that I think stunned TJ a bit, and darned near got Syracuse the key goal they needed in the final frame. That's after he tied the game once in the final period with an absolute bullet from the point. These two guys will be fun to watch develop next season.
Ondrej Palat finishes the playoffs as the AHL leader in postseason scoring. Well done, Mr. Palat.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Syracuse gives themselves a chance.
Grand Rapids Leads the Series 3-2
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 42 shots for the win. 40 saves as Grand Rapids threw the kitchen sink at Syracuse to try to avoid having to head back to New York.
SYR Palat, (7) , 8:39
SYR Connolly, (6) (Johnson, Barberio), 16:09 (PP)
GR Grant, (2) (Ferraro, Callahan), 17:38
GR Tatar, (14) (Nyquist, Billins), 5:36 (PP)
SYR Panik, (8) (Barberio, Palat), 11:59 (PP)
SYR Johnson, (10) (Palat, Taormina), 0:36
SYR Sexton, (6) (Namestnikov), 17:16 (EN)
Desjardins and Tyler Johnson were the game's first and second stars.
And, just like that, Syracuse has given itself an opportunity at something legendary. Headed west to Michigan their mission was to win 2 out of 3 to get things back to Syracuse with home ice. Things looked bleak as bleak can be down 3-0, but they ultimately accomplished their mission, and withstood an attempted haymaker from Grand Rapids tonight in Game Five to stay alive in the series. Now they have, potentially, 2 games at home to pull of what seemed fairly impossible 48 hours ago.
However, Syracuse can't confuse momentum for destiny. They need to show the maturity to understand that all they've accomplished in the past 2 nights was to book their tickets to a Game Six that for many of them is going to be some of the toughest, most intense hockey of their career. Grand Rapids actually probably has less pressure on them in Game Six than they did in Game Five, because the chance to clinch at home is written off and they can fall back on the fact that they haven't lost a game yet in Syracuse's barn. The Crunch need to understand that. Game Six is going to be a war. Hopefully, it's a war where Syracuse's shorter path to the Finals starts to pay some dividends. Grand Rapids played a 7 game series in the Western Conference Finals after going 6 games with the Marlies and the full 5 against the Aeros. Syracuse has to hope that as the battle becomes more pitched in Game Six, they have a little more left in the tank than Grand Rapids does. But, they can't rely on that to just kick in automatically. They have to push that much harder now to make it happen. If they do, there's a good chance they'll get to Game Seven.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Syracuse shows some pride.
Grand Rapids Leads the Series 3-1
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 28 shots for the victory.
GR Andersson, (2) (Evans, Billins), 3:37
SYR Connolly, (5) , 5:04
GR Mursak, (11) (Hoggan, Glendening), 11:04
SYR Palat, (6) (Panik), 14:01
SYR Panik, (7) (Barberio, Cote), 16:52
Certainly Syracuse is still in horrible shape in the series down 3-1 and the odds are still long as long can be, but by winning tonight Syracuse places some pressure on Grand Rapids to finish up this series at home in Game Five before the scene shifts back to Syracuse. Because of that, you can expect the Griffins' best shot tomorrow, but if Syracuse can withstand that and pull out a win they'll actually hold home ice advantage with a chance to make a minor miracle happen. I'd say they owe it to themselves and to their fans back in upstate New York to make that happen.
C'mon boys. Give yourselves an opportunity to do something legendary.
Box score from TheAHL.com.