Already down by two with less than nine minutes remaining, a pair of penalties 20 seconds apart seemed to stifle any potential Syracuse Crunch rally.
But the Crunch's Mike Angelidis, Jean-Philipe Cote and Brendan Mikkelson shut down a Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins power play that had already converted twice, giving Syracuse a glimmer of hope during the final stretch.
"I thought our guys did an unbelievable job of getting into the shooting lanes and blocking shots, I thought it was awesome," said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler. "I was hoping for some momentum off that, it just never really came."
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton held on during a 6-on-4 in their own end during the closing minutes, topping Syracuse 4-2 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday. The loss snaps a streak of seven straight postseason wins for the Crunch, and 17 straight playoff wins for the Tampa Bay Lightning's American Hockey League affiliate.
The Crunch forward plowed through Springfield Falcons goalie Curtis McElhinney, creating a rebound for Mark Barberio to bury less than a second later to give Syracuse a two-goal lead in the fourth game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last week. It was Namestnikov’s first of two assists on the night, his first professional postseason points.
"Not a lot of players make that play," said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler. "A lot of players go behind the net instead of going to the front of the net. He's got the courage and the speed to make those plays."
For Zettler, it’s just one example of the recent development in Namestnikov’s game.
"Over the last two or three weeks, his play has really elevated," Zettler said of the 20-year-old. "He's really skating well, he's battling for pucks and going to the hard areas."
For a 30-goal scorer, Brett Connolly is essentially flying below the radar.
Overshadowed by the success of the Syracuse Crunch's top line, Connolly has quietly continued his nearly one point per game pace in the Calder Cup Playoffs. He has five points in seven postseason games, having already notched 31 goals and 32 assists in 71 games in the regular season.
With a one goal lead and the third period winding down, Matt Taormina found the puck on his stick and looked for an open shot.
After his first attempt was blocked, the Syracuse Crunch defenseman drove toward the net wristed another toward the Springfield Falcons' net. He lost track of it there.
"I shot and I didn't hear anything until the crowd reacted," Taormina said. "I finally knew it actually went in."
The goal put the exclamation point on Syracuse's 5-2 win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals at the Onondaga County War Memorial Friday, as the Crunch swept the Falcons 4-0 to move on to the conference finals.
"They were pressing, they could feel it," Syracuse coach Rob Zettler said of Springfield. "Then Taormina steps up and scores that goal, it's huge. It put a stamp on it for us."
Syracuse punches their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals, and they've made it look easy to this point.
Syracuse Wins the Series 4-0
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 30 shots for the victory.
SYR Wyman, (1) (Devos), 6:04
SYR Barberio, (3) (Namestnikov, Panik), 7:52
SPR Craig, (2) (Savard, Jenner), 2:38 (PP)
SYR Wyman, (2) (Brown, Cote), 17:20
SPR Joudrey, (1) (Savard, Jenner), 8:35
SYR Taormina, (1) (Connolly), 9:45
SYR Sexton, (2) (Namestnikov), 18:01 (EN)
You would think with the PTP line held to just 1 point that Springfield would finally get a win in the series, right? Wrong. Syracuse's second and third lines carried the mail and delivered the squad to the next round.
The core of this team that was also in Norfolk for their championship run last season, AKA SyraNo, has won 17 straight playoff games. It's a ridiculous level of success that will be difficult for the league and the media to officially recognize because of the affiliation change. But, it's one of those things that really, in my opinion, gives this group the argument to say they're one of the best in league history. In fact, if they "repeat", I'd say they probably are the best multi-season collection of players in AHL history.
Syracuse's next opponent will probably be top seeded Providence, which holds a 3-1 series lead over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton after a Penguins win tonight. This is where taking care of an opponent and getting the sweep can pay dividends. Every game Wilkes-Barre/Scranton can extend that series depletes Providence's energy and possibly leads to more injuries while Syracuse can conserve theirs and stay healthy. There's the added dimension of Boston still being alive in the playoffs and injury call-ups that comes into play, too. Playoff hockey can be about attrition, and bear in mind Providence went the distance in their first round series against Hershey, too. Advantage Syracuse if Providence can't handle their business in Game Five of their series tomorrow.
Box score from TheAHL.com.