Palat, Ondrej

Crunch's Top Line Looks To Keep Rolling in Round 2


By Jeremy Houghtaling

Although all the weight isn’t on their shoulders, the Syracuse Crunch’s top line knows its importance.

Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Richard Panik have provided six of Syracuse’s 12 postseason goals, including two out of the four in each game. Those six markers include all three game-winners, two of which came in overtime.

With the No. 2 seed Falcons looming when the Eastern Conference Semifinals begin in Springfield Friday, the top line will be expected to do what it has done all season – produce points by the bunches in all situations.

"All three of those guys can fly," said Crunch coach Rob Zettler. "That's their best asset – they have speed. If you show that speed early and often, hopefully it will back off their defense and create some room in front of them as the series goes on."

AHL Playoff Game Night: 5-2-13 Crunch at Pirates

Palat on the spot.

SYR-4
POR-3 (OT)

Syracuse Wins the Best-of-Five Series 3-0

Cedrick Desjardins allowed 3 goals on just 18 shots for the victory. Once again, he allowed another wraparound goal that was on the soft side and once again the team bailed him out. Mind you, he made some incredible saves in Overtime to make up for it, but as the competition level rises in the next round Desjardins has got to get better.

First Period
POR Miele, (1) (Bolduc, Brown), 15:57 (PP)

Second Period
SYR Gudas, (1) (Taormina, Sexton), 6:57 (PP)

Third Period
POR Bolduc, (1) (Miele, Lessio), 0:19
POR Johnson, (2) (Stone, Conner), 10:47 (PP)
SYR Angelidis, (1) (Wyman, Barberio), 13:59
SYR Palat, (2) (Connolly, Sustr), 18:48

Overtime
SYR Palat, (3) (Taormina, Johnson), 19:43

Ondrej Palat was the game's first star. Oddly enough, I thought his first two games of the series were better than tonight, but he was in the right places at the right times for the two biggest goals of the series.

Let me tell you a little something about Brett Connolly, who turned 21 today and celebrated by knifing Portland in the heart late in regulation. Hopping on the ice as the sixth attacker to try to tie the game late in the Third Period, the puck came to Connolly who circled through the neutral zone and cut down the left wing boards into the offensive zone. For the life of me, I thought Portland's defenseman had the angle on Connolly at the blueline and would squeeze him off, or at least get enough of him to separate the puck. Nope. Connolly has deceptive speed a la Alex Killorn and he squirted by without being touched, went to circle behind the net, and just before he went behind dished a beautiful little backhand pass to Palat for the stuff. Tie game. What an individual play by Connolly. Truly cold blooded.

Let me also tell you a little something about faceoffs. Gudas' power play goal came directly from a bang-bang play off a faceoff win by Dan Sexton. And then, with just 17 seconds left in Overtime, Palat's second goal came off a faceoff win by Tyler Johnson that led to a Taormina shot that gave Palat the rebound he needed to send the Crunch to the first round pay window. Those quick plays off clean faceoff wins in the offensive zone are instant scoring chances, and almost as valuable as forcing turnovers out of your opponent.

It's not all good news, though. Although Syracuse outshot Portland 45-18, I suspect the scoring chances don't reflect the disparity. There was a distinct lack of GMT in this game for the Crunch. GMT = goal mouth thrills. Syracuse got a lot of traffic and a lot of greasy chances in the first two games of the series and they were absent tonight, with the exception of a few shifts by the Angelidis line. As the level of competition goes up in the next round, more GMT is required. If you don't muck it up in the high traffic areas, you invite a night like tonight where Portland's goaltender gobbled up a lot of clean, unscreened, undeflected shots.

Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference tonight, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton finished off their own sweep of Binghamton and Manchester won their first game of their series. Springfield still holds a 2-1 edge, but the series continues on. Top seed Providence is down 2-0 to Hershey. If either Providence or Springfield get upset (and Providence going down looks distinctly possible right now) Syracuse will get home ice for a second round series against the Penguins. Tough opponent. It'll be a great series.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

AHL Playoff Game Night: 4-28-13 Pirates at Crunch

Game Two goes according to plan.

POR-2
SYR-4

Syracuse Leads the Best-of-Five Series 2-0

Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 20 shots for the victory. He looked much more solid tonight in net. The team needs him to play like that moving forward if they want to reach their ultimate goal.

First Period
SYR Palat, (1) (Johnson, Taormina), 9:33
SYR Brown, (1) (Angelidis, Wyman), 10:41

Second Period
SYR Johnson, (2) (Palat), 0:49 (SH)
SYR Connolly, (1) (Sexton, Devos), 14:36
POR Gormley, (1) (Shinnimin, Johnson), 16:50

Third Period
POR Johnson, (1) (Lessio, Gormley), 9:40

Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Matt Taormina were the game's three stars.

I continue to be extremely impressed by Palat. He's been the complete package through 2 games in this series. Just like last season, good things happen when the man has the puck. I was also impressed with Vladislav Namestnikov, who got a lot more ice time with Richard Panik getting kicked out after a secondary altercation. Portland tried targeting Namestnikov, and Vladdy rose to the challenge. He was feisty and he landed some good hits in the Third Period, to go along with his usual puckhandling and playmaking.

Game Three is Thursday in Portland. This is where Zettler's going to earn his big boy coaching pants. Portland's going to throw everything they have left at Syracuse in the First Period, and if Syracuse is complacent, bad things will happen. Playoffs are about attrition as much as anything, and if you have a chance to finish an opponent off, you do it. Anything that extends a series is another set of shifts where one of your key players can get hurt, so you have to finish the drill ASAP, and with Providence falling behind 2-0 in their series and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton up 2-0 in theirs, it's looking like a very good Pens team is lurking on the horizon. Syracuse wants to be healthy and rested for that potential opponent.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

AHL Playoff Game Night: 4-27-13 Pirates at Crunch

Syracuse withstands Portland's best punch.

POR-3
SYR-4 (OT)

Syracuse Leads the Best-of-Five Series 1-0

Cedrick Desjardins allowed 3 goals on 31 shots for the victory. 2 of those goals were softies on wrap-arounds that Desjardins needs to wipe out of his game quickly moving forward in these playoffs. He scares me. Point blank, the guy scares me.

First Period
POR Dziurzynski, (1) (Werek), 10:53
POR Rundblad, (1) (Gormley, Martinook), 17:16 (PP)

Second Period
SYR Johnson, (1) (Panik, Palat), 6:37 (PP)
POR Brown, (1) (Lane, Miele), 8:23
SYR Barberio, (1) (Palat, Johnson), 13:32 (PP)

Third Period
SYR Sexton, (1) (Sustr, Devos), 7:54

Overtime
SYR Panik, (1) (Palat, Johnson), 6:36 (PP)

Richard Panik, Tyler Johnson, and Radko Gudas were the game's three stars. While not terribly visible at even strength, Panik showed great hands around the net on the PP setting up Johnson's goal and outwaiting Portland's netminder on the game winner. Panik attack, y'all.

That, I suspect, was Portland's best chance to seize upset momentum in this series. They got a couple of softies out of Desjardins and had the 2 goal lead on the road with a chance to steal home ice in a short 5-game series. The Crunch kept chipping away at it though and eventually wore out the Pirates, who now may have to go without Boris Valabik for a few games after a vicious elbowing major that led to Panik's winner. Syracuse now just has to make sure Brett Connolly, the recipient of that elbow, is healthy along with Johnson and Mark Barberio, each of whom also got banged up during the game. All three returned to action, so hopefully everything is going to be fine.

As quiet as a 3 assist night can be, I thought Ondrej Palat along with Johnson were Syracuse's best players tonight. Palat also drew three penalties out of Portland on top of his scoresheet production.

Game Two is tomorrow night. We'll see what Portland has in the tank.

Box score from TheAHL.com.

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