Before the game, Rob Zettler could feel it in the room.
The Syracuse Crunch coach, his team less than 24 hours removed from its first playoff loss, sensed in the banter that things would be different Sunday. Determined to not dwell on the loss, Syracuse knew what it needed to do.
"The guys were ready, they were champing at the bit," Zettler said. "I didn't need to say a whole lot to get them ready for tonight's game."
The Crunch followed through, beating the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 3-2 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at the Onondaga County War Memorial. Syracuse tied the series 1-1, with Game 3 set for Wednesday in Wilkes-Barre.
"We definitely were crushed a little bit last night, it was our first loss and that's going to happen," said Syracuse defenseman Matt Taormina. "We just had to get back to our game."
By the skin of their teeth...
Series Tied at 1-1
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 18 shots for the victory. If someone can explain to me what case of amnesia struck he and his defensemen on the second Penguins goal, I'd love to hear it. They forgot they were in a playoff game and they almost set in motion events that could've cost them what should've been an easy win.
SYR Sexton, (3) (Connolly, Barberio), 18:56 (PP)
SYR Taormina, (2) (Angelidis, Sustr), 7:07
WBS Mormina, (1) (Dumoulin, Kolarik), 8:13 (PP)
SYR Korobov, (1) (Gudas, Palat), 11:40 (SH)
WBS Holzapfel, (4) (Grant), 14:02
You'll rarely see a game as one-sided as this one was for the first 50 minutes or so. Syracuse dominated territorily and on the shot board, holding the Pens to just 1 shot in the entire First Period. They played like you expect them to play with very good efforts by J.T. Brown and Vladislav Namestnikov, among others, with Dmitry Korobov blowing the game open a bit with a shorthanded goal that he whistled by Thiessen top shelf.
And then all hell broke lose. An accidential collision had Tyler Johnson limping off the ice not to be seen again, and we don't know if he'll be available for Game Three Wednesday. A bizarre play where the D and Desjardins looked like a bunch of clueless 5 year olds led to a second Pens goal, and the next thing you know the team was holding on for dear life in the final 5 minutes.
This is what the Penguins wanted. They have to turn this series into a war of attrition to have a chance. Syracuse needs to go to their barn and steal home ice back Wednesday and take control back of the series. They have the pieces to do it, even if Johnson can't go. But, man, that's as disorganized as I've ever seen a SyraNo team protecting a lead late in the last 2 years. That was terrifying.
Side note: when his playing days are over Jared Nightingale has a future in broadcasting, having heard him on a few Syracuse games now. That's not a shot on other players who have done it for the affiliate over the past couple of years, but Nightingale's got the chops for it.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
All good things...
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Leads the Series 1-0
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 4 goals on 23 shots for the loss.
WBS Grant, (1) (Nesbitt, Smith), 1:55
SYR Mikkelson, (1) (Taormina, Brown), 16:41
WBS Smith, (5) (Gibbons, Kolarik), 17:12 (PP)
SYR Johnson, (8) (Connolly, Barberio), 5:38 (PP)
WBS Minella, (1) , 9:24
WBS Grant, (2) (Nesbitt, Holzapfel), 19:04 (PP)
Brendan Mikkelson was the game's third star.
Syracuse tastes adversity now for the first time in these playoffs by yielding home ice to the Pens. In the process, their top line was largely held off the board and Syracuse looked vulnerable in a close game where the other team's goaltending, on paper, is better. Now the real challenge begins. Game Two is tomorrow night and the Pens will be playing with house money in a game where the Crunch absolutely need to win.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
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."