Crunch Stumble Against Penguins, Lose First Playoff Game 4-2
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.
With Game 2 Sunday evening, Syracuse has a quick turnaround before the next game.
"You've got to turn the page now and learn from our mistakes," said Crunch forward Tyler Johnson. "We're not unbeatable. We can't be doing all the Harlem Globetrotter stuff on the ice, we've got to keep it simple."
Syracuse came back from a pair of one-goal deficits in the first 30 minutes.
The Penguins' Alex Grant struck first less than two minutes into the game, but Mikkelson answered with a shot from the point with less than four minutes to play in the first. Trevor Smith gave Wilkes-Barre/Scranton another one-goal lead before the end of the first frame, and Tyler Johnson responded with a goal less than six minutes into the second.
Christiaan Minella provided the eventual game-winner midway through the second on a Crunch turnover in their own zone, and Grant provided the Penguins with some insurance before the second intermission.
"We had a lot of chances near the end, but we can't wait until the end to start putting our foot on the gas," Angelidis said.
Penguins goalie Brad Thiessen finished with 24 saves, while Crunch netminder Cedrick Desjardins had 19.
"I'm sure there were a couple he would have liked to have back, but (Desjardins) has been there for us for seven straight games," Zettler said. "He's going to be fine."
Zettler echoed the sentiment for the whole locker room.
"It's fine, we're fine, I think we're absolutely fine," he said. "It's one game. It's one game in a best of seven series. Like I told them afterward, there's no reason to panic, just stick to our game and play the way I know we can play."
"It would have been nice to go 15-0 in the playoffs, but that's not usually what happens," Zettler added. "You're going to run into some adversity every once in a while. I've got full faith in these guys."
Pictured: Penguins forward Trevor Smith scores against the Crunch at the Onondaga County War Memorial Saturday.