After four tight games, Rob Zettler could finally breathe easy.
The Syracuse Crunch head coach, his team leading 5-0 through the first 40 minutes, still kept his team focused on finishing the series off the right way.
Syracuse's Philippe Paradis added a pair of third period goals to finish off a hat trick, as the Crunch routed the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 7-0 to win the Eastern Conference Finals series 4-1 at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.
"It felt good to be able to relax back there for a change," Zettler said.
The Crunch, in the Calder Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history, host the winner of Grand Rapids and Oklahoma City next weekend. That series is tied 2-2.
"I don't think we were expecting a 7-0 finish," said Syracuse defenseman Mark Barberio. "We just wanted to stick to our game plan. It's been successful all season and we were opportunistic with our chances."
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.
SyraNo so good when playing with house money over the past 2 seasons.
Syracuse Leads the Series 3-1
Cedrick Desjardins allowed 2 goals on 23 shots for the victory.
WBS Harrington, (1) (Uher, Holzapfel), 13:40 (PP)
SYR Mikkelson, (2) (Taormina, Palat), 14:57
WBS Megna, (2) (Peters, Uher), 16:40
SYR Connolly, (3) (Barberio, Sexton), 18:12
SYR Johnson, (9) (Palat, Namestnikov), 1:50
SYR Wyman, (3) , 19:04 (EN)
This is why this affiliate has been so amazing in the playoffs over the past couple of seasons. They get a team down with a chance to bury them in a deep hole and they don't squander it. With Desjardins basically stealing Game Three, the easy conclusion would be the Pens would put the hammer down even more and even things up at 2-2, especially with Richard Panik out of the lineup. Syracuse doesn't throw their opposition life vests when they are in situations like this, though. They throw them anchors. Now the Crunch will get not worse than two cracks at home to close out the series with a commanding 3-1 series lead.
And, as has been noted in the previous two series, if you can close out a playoff series quickly you should do so. Playoff hockey can be a war of attrition, and the less battles you have to fight to win the war, the less you expose yourself to potential destiny-altering injuries.
Game Five is tomorrow night in Syracuse.
Box score and extended statistics from TheAHL.com.
Grand theft in Pennsylvania.
Syracuse Leads the Series 2-1
Cedrick Desjardins stopped all 22 shots he faced for the win. He gets a lot of deserved criticism at times for his mechanics and footwork, and Julien BriseBois deserves some scrutiny for moving Dustin Tokarski to get Desjardins. But, Cedrick absolutely stole this game tonight. Stole it. Syracuse was outplayed pretty soundly, especially in the Second Period, and Desjardins just battled right through it. The Penguins have to be demoralized, because they played the game they had to and Desjardins put on his ski mask and heisted the win from them.
SYR Namestnikov, (1) (Palat), 7:29
SYR Brown, (3) (Angelidis), 19:55 (EN)
Desjardins and Vladislav Namestnikov were the game's first and second stars. Namestnikov scored his first pro playoff goal on a slapshot from the high slot shortly after replacing an injured Richard Panik on the team's top line. We'll see if Panik returns for Game Four.
Glad to see J.T. Brown get the empty netter. His line with Angelidis and Wyman was the best the Crunch had tonight my a mile. By. A. Mile. It wasn't even close. I think if Zettler could've cloned that line, he'd have thrown them out for the entire game. That line is in many ways a perfect third line because they're hard on the puck, responsible defensively, and they have just enough scoring touch to keep you honest. Nobody else was doing anything consistently and certain players like Brett Connolly had notably subpar games by their standards.
You hope this was an abberation, and now that Syracuse has stolen home ice back they play up to their usual form in Game Four on Friday. If they can, they've got a shot at the short series. If they can't, and they keep playing like they've played in the last 70 minutes of this series, they're in deep trouble.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
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."
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.