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.
Grand Rapids Leads the Series 2-0
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 6 goals on 29 shots for the loss. I don't care how you spin that. That's an ugly stat line. Desjardins suffered tonight from going long stretches without seeing any shots and then suddenly having to face a 10 bell scoring chance, like Mursak's game sealing breakaway.
GR Tatar, (12) (Evans, Nyquist), 4:29
GR Grant, (1) (Ferraro), 11:31
SYR Sustr, (1) (Taormina, Paradis), 14:03
GR Ferraro, (5) (Hoggan, Sheahan), 6:23
SYR Panik, (5) (Connolly, Johnson), 10:06 (PP)
GR Jurco, (8) (Sheahan), 12:09 (PP)
SYR Connolly, (4) (Johnson, Palat), 16:12 (PP)
SYR Brown, (4) (Wyman), 18:23
GR Pare, (3) (Ferraro, Paetsch), 18:49 (PP)
GR Mursak, (9) (Hoggan, Paetsch), 14:56
Brett Connolly was the game's third star.
I think these past two games put an exclamation mark on the impact Radko Gudas being absent from the lineup hurts the Syracuse Crunch. They're not giving up huge amounts of zone time or shots, but the number of odd man rushes is out of control, and the team misses its best defenseman. Clearly.
The AHL's top officials should seriously consider whether they want the players or the referees to decide their champion. The degree to which the referees have had an impact so far in this serious has been stunning for a professional league.
Now these players have to decide how much their legacy means to them. A comeback victory against the odds with 3 in a row in Grand Rapids would only add to this group's legend as one of the best assemblages of players in AHL history. Going out with a whimper makes the team look more like a one year, Norfolk wonder. They've worked too hard, I think, to let it go down like that, though. Game Three is Wednesday.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Long layoff, shaky goal, Mrazek, and the refs cost Syracuse Game One.
Grand Rapids leads the series 1-0
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 20 shots for the loss. He's a bit infuriating. He was pretty well excellent throughout the game making several big stops along the way, but the eventual game winner was a long slapshot that he allowed to go through him that you simply cannot surrender in a 1-0 game in the Third Period. So frustrating.
GR Callahan, (5) (Billins, Evans), 6:45
GR Sheahan, (3) (Mursak), 12:00
SYR Cote, (1) (Angelidis, Brown), 13:19
GR Nyquist, (2) (Andersson), 19:45 (EN/PP)
Ondrej Palat was the game's third star. There's little doubt he was the straw that stirred the drink on the reformed PTP line tonight with Richard Panik back in the lineup. They got a fair number of scoring chances, but Petr Mrazek is a damned good goaltender. The Crunch definitely learned that tonight.
Also helping Mrazek out was that Syracuse showed just a bit of rust from their long layoff. In the first half of the game it seemed their short to mid-range passes were just a shade off of clicking, and it really allowed Grand Rapids to keep Syracuse away from the kind of zone time domination the Crunch thrive off of. They've got to find a way to better establish their forecheck headed into Game Two.
Beyond that, it should be noted that the refs waved off a goal in the match on a power play in the Second Period that should have tied the game on a crease violation where the replay showed no real contact with Mrazek. Between that and an interference penalty that went uncalled late in the Third Period right before Panik took a call that essentially ended the contest, the refs influence on the game could hardly be underestimated. Again, frustrating, and I think the wave off of the goal definitely deflated Syracuse for the rest of the Second and on into the early Third Period.
So, now Syracuse falls behind the 8-ball with Grand Rapids stealing home ice and playing with house money in Game Two. Hopefully Syracuse will get Radko Gudas back for the contest, because the thought of being down 0-2 before heading west is beyond unappealing.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Syracuse's 4th liners help put up a touchdown on the Penguins.
Syracuse Wins the Series 4-1
Syracuse Win the Eastern Conference Championship
Cedrick Desjardins stopped all 22 shots he faced for the shutout victory. He was the player of the series, in my opinion. By stealing Game Three, a game where the Crunch played their worst hockey, he really put the Pens behind the eight ball and tonight was the finishing touch.
SYR Namestnikov, (2) (Sustr, Johnson), 16:04
SYR Gudas, (2) (Brown, Wyman), 16:56
SYR Paradis, (1) (Barberio, Sustr), 13:37
SYR Sexton, (4) (Devos), 15:31
SYR Palat, (5) (Sexton, Barberio), 17:58 (PP)
SYR Paradis, (2) (Sustr), 1:02
SYR Paradis, (3) (Sexton, Barberio), 5:43
Phillipe Paradis, Desjardins, and Dan Sexton were the game's three stars. Best line of the night? It was Syracuse's extra forwards Paradis and Cedric Paquette (whom I have dubbed "Dump Truck" for his fleet skating ability and work rate). With the Crunch up 2-0 at the end of the First Period, they seemed to take their foot off the gas the first 5 minutes of the Second Period. It looked like the Pens would make a game of it until the 4th liners came in and started to get zone time and turn the momentum back to Syracuse. They never looked back, and Paradis eventually ran up a hat trick for the ages. None of the goals were cheapies, either. Paradis has a surprisingly good shot and absolutely took Zatkoff to school on each one.
Another highlight? Dmitry Korobov beating the tar out of Paul Thompson. You know Thompson thought he was picking a winnable opponent going up against a Belarussian. Wrong. Korobov beat him like he stole a mortgage payment worth of money from him. Remind me never to get Dmitry Korobov mad at me. He rained fists down on the top of Thompson's head with tropical storm force. Wow.
Radko Gudas sat out the Third Period with what appeared to be a lower body bruise. Richard Panik again sat out of the lineup (making room for Dump Truck), but he was in the morning skate and one would assume he will be available in the next series. Grand Rapids looks to be on the way to winning tonight's game against Oklahoma City, which would knot that series up at 2-2. That means it could be half a week before the Crunch know who their Calder Cup Finals opponent is, and you hope it's a week where Grand Rapids and Oklahoma City beat the daylights out of each other while Syracuse heals. Whichever opponent makes it out of the West, Syracuse will have home ice to begin the series, so they've done just about everything they need to strategically to set themselves up to try to collect another title.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
TAMPA BAY – The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed defenseman Radko Gudas to a three-year contract, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced today.
Gudas, 22, played in 22 games with the Lightning this past season, collecting two goals and five points to go along with a plus-3 rating and 38 penalty minutes. He made his NHL debut on March 12 at Florida and scored his first career NHL goal on March 20 at Toronto. Gudas ranked seventh in the NHL among rookies with 87 hits despite playing in only 22 games during the 2012-13 regular season.