Crunch Clinch Division With Win Over Sharks, 4-3


By Jeremy Houghtaling

JT Wyman doesn't classify himself as a shootout specialist.

But after the Syracuse surrendered a three-goal lead in the third period, the Crunch forward found himself up in the shootout with a chance to win the game and clinch the East Division title.

Wyman tried to focus on the task at hand. He had an idea of where he wanted to shoot, and did his best to read Worcester Sharks goalie Alex Stalock.

"I'm not really thinking about that when I'm going down there," Wyman said of the division implications.

Wyman made it to the top of the circles and wired a shot over Stalock's glove. The goal emptied the Crunch bench, as the team celebrated the 4-3 win and the franchise's second division title and first since 2001-02.

"It feels good to win the division, but our work's not done," said Syracuse coach Rob Zettler.

Brett Connolly opened the scoring for Syracuse, tallying his 31st goal of the season less than 12 minutes into the game. Dan Sexton and Mark Barberio recorded the assists.

Philip-Michael Devos and Tyler Johnson scored less than two minutes apart in the second, giving the Crunch a three-goal lead heading into the final 20 minutes. Johnson leads the league with 37 goals this season, and is three away from the Syracuse single-season record.

Connolly, Vladislav Namestnikov, JT Brown and Jean-Philippe Cote each credited with a single helper.

Despite playing their final game of the season with no hopes of the playoffs, the Sharks refused to roll over. Curt Gogol, Daniil Tarasov and Eriah Hayes each scored in the third to send the game to overtime.

"We've got to learn from that," Wyman said. "We definitely sat back on our heels in the third and gave them an opportunity, and they took advantage of it."

After five minutes of overtime, Sexton, Connolly and Wyman each scored in the shootout to seal the win.

Crunch goalie Cedrick Desjardins stopped all three shootout attempts and finished with 19 saves, including three on shorthanded chances in the third. Stalock made 26 stops.

"We played really well last night, we did not play well tonight," Zettler said. "We gave up a lot of Grade A chances, and (Desjardins) had to work his tail off to keep us in the game."

"Good teams find a way to win even when they don't play well," Zettler added. "That's what we did tonight."

Syracuse (43-21-6-5) wraps up the regular season with a Sunday afternoon game against Binghamton. With a win, the Crunch clinch second place in the Eastern Conference.

"We just need to worry about ourselves," Connolly said. "It doesn't matter who we're playing in the playoffs. It doesn't matter if we're second or third. We need to go into the playoffs playing good hockey and believing in ourselves."

Pictured: The Crunch celebrate a first period goal by Brett Connolly, far right, against the Sharks at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.